Honestly, it was Naomi’s idea to play Bingo this year and, sure, I thought it’d be fun but it turns out that I love the sense of momentum that comes from checking off squares as a I work towards a goal. (Household Chore bingo? Fitness bingo? Anyone? Me! Me! Me!)

Over the weekend, I finished reading Cat’s Eye, which I’ll chat about under separate cover before long; I’ve written the review, so I’m checking off two squares by turning the final page, the first on each of the first two lines on the card.

On the second line, I’ve finished a season of a TV show, that I approached with the intention of watching only a single episode, for the fourth line (surprise!). And I finally checked the last square. This week, in Graeme Gibson’s The Bedside Book of Beasts: A Wildlife Miscellany (2009), I noted this, from F.W. Champion’s “The Alleged Cruelty of Tigers”, in which the author poses this question:

“Now let us see how man, the avowed hater of cruelty, obtains his meat: can he honestly claim to be as merciful as the tiger? A bullock, fattened to provide prime beef, is driven towards the slaughter-house, from which emanates a terrifying smell of stale blood. Some instinct warns him of danger, and he turns to escape. He is caught again and finally forced into the actual death-chamber, terrified and shaking in every limb.”

Nothing new for the third line, but for the fourth line I’ve written a Haiku, so let the mocking ensue:
Margaret Atwood’s books
Fill a shelf on the west wall
So much good reading

And the first episode of “Alias Grace” sent me on a binge through the weekend. Much has been written about the development process behind “Alias Grace” ; aside from that, beginning with the first episode, there is much to enjoy (even those unfamiliar with the story would be engaged, I think).

Sarah Polley’s involvement was a major incentive for me (“Stories We Tell” is a favourite) because I trusted she would respect the original story. This is one of those instances in which one is reminded of the power of film, because although all of the elements of MA’s narrative are present right from the start (the apple that Simon presents to Grace, for instance, and the quilting motif) the capacity to edit and elide scenes, across time and space, creates a memorable impact…so that the film is every bit as good as the book (only, different).

When Grace Marks first speaks to the visiting doctor—a doctor of the mind, not the body, Simon explains—in the Kingston Penitentiary, she sees flashes, memories, none of which clarify her responsibility for the deaths she’s been charged with, but only serve to raise more questions: nevermind, for in these few seconds, the bloody nature of this business in the past is suddenly sharply real. (This early scene was filmed on location, as the jail is now a museum, although much of the series was filmed in Toronto).

Also satisfying is the attention to detail: bonnet ties that are twisted and grimy with overuse, holes and tears in the fabric of the recent immigrants, and the soiled hemlines of young Grace, all visible in her memories of life before she goes “into service” at the home where the murders would occur. Polley discusses the importance of Grace’s voiceover here and it’s due to her humour and intelligence that it’s difficult to stop after just one episode. (All of this based on a “true” story, lest we forget.)

And, in the final row, I’ve done some cheering. And I’ve checked the final square as well, with John Moss’ second edition of A Reader’s Guide to the Canadian Novel (1987), which contains four short essays about Margaret Atwood’s books: The Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). (Fortuitously, I found a copy of this volume in a Little Free Library last month!)

Although her other books were recognized as being popular with readers, critics are said to first have been impressed with The Handmaid’s Tale. Even at this early stage, it’s observed that because she twins thematic and stylistic focus, each of her novels appears distinct. Although criticized as already dated, The Edible Woman is observed to be striking “because of the fusion of its two modes: the confessional and the satiric”: “Here is wit, not quite concealing a cry of despair or a supercilious hiss.”

Surfacing is proclaimed to be “more difficult and demanding to read than her others, and proportionately better…comfortably among the best novels in our literature.” It reveals a “perfect command of images and words” whereas Lady Oracle “manages to be shallow and deep at the same time, like an image in a mirror, which is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional”. Survival, Life Before Man, and Bodily Harm are all discussed in the final two paragraphs of the Lady Oracle essay, as if the writer simply couldn’t wait to discuss Handmaid’s, which is described as “wicked, sad and witty”.

Although not interested in “details of her dystopian vision”, deemed “relatively unimportant”, there’s some discussion of the alignment between author and Offred’s voice, observing how MA’s style and Offred’s intersect: “The cockeyed commas, inverted syntax, distended cliches, startling and enigmatic metaphors, cumulative extended analogies—Atwood and her narrator share a fondness for these, in prose that comes simultaneously from both.

But surely just because two women are both witty, they needn’t be viewed as one and the same. And those unimportant details of a dystopian vision feel a whole lot more relevant when they’re remarkably similar to aspects of women’s 21st-century lives. Still, it’s interesting to read these contemporary pieces.

So my grid will resolve in something like a high-school geometry lesson, with two lines complete, the bottom row and one diagonal. The other MARM activities I have in mind for the rest of November do not fit tidily in the grid, and I’ll tell you about them next week.

If you’re participating in MARM this year, what have you been up to? Feel free to include a link if you wish.

If you’re not participating yourself, is there anything you would recommend to other participants?

Margaret Atwood Reading Month is hosted here and by Naomi at Consumed by Ink and inspired by decades of reading Margaret Atwood’s words. From Sunday November 1st to Monday November 30th, we’ll be reading Margaret Atwood, and we invite you to join in! (And last week, on the 18th, it was Margaret Atwood’s 81st birthday. This whole month has been a celebration with books, quotes, cookies and cake!) Check out Naomi’s Update for Week Four here!