Negotiating with the Dead (Magill Book Reviews)
Although she is best-known for novels such as The Blind Assassin (2000), Margaret Atwood has also written poetry, short stories, juvenile books, and teleplays, and, in addition, has dealt with critical issues in various essays and introductions. Her book Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1996) was an important thematic study.
Like the earlier volume, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing is based on a series of lectures delivered at one of England’s major universities. However, in this book Atwood focuses on the relationship between writers and their craft. She begins by suggesting various reasons why writers write and then, leaving that question unresolved, describes how she came to be a writer. In subsequent chapters, Atwood considers such matters as the duality of a writer’s nature; the temptations writers face, such as the pressure to write books to make money, to attain personal popularity, or to effect social change; and the relationships between writer, book, and reader.
In the final chapter, Atwood answers her original question in mystical terms: like epic heroes, she says, all serious fiction writers, perhaps all writers, have to visit the Underworld, the domain of the dead, and bring back something that will bring their works to life.
Negotiating with the Dead is not an easy read. However, the conversational tone, the personal anecdotes, and the...
(The entire section is 270 words.)
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Negotiating with the Dead (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Margaret Atwood’s novels typically have titles that, though obscure at first, ultimately are revealed as statements of the thematic core of each narrative. Only after one has finished reading The Edible Woman (1969), Cat’s Eye (1988), or The Blind Assassin (2000) does the full significance of each title become clear. Similarly, while Atwood indicates the subject matter of Negotiating with the Dead in the subtitle of the book, A Writer on Writing, she does not explain the meaning of the title until the end of the book. Then, just as in her fiction, it becomes clear that nothing in her work is accidental, that every detail is related to the central theme.
In the introduction to Negotiating with the Dead, Atwood poses the question, “What is it that motivates a writer to write?” None of the responses she has collected seem to satisfy her, though she does note that many of them suggested difficulty, darkness, or danger. That her own book was, above all, a quest for a more definitive answer to this question becomes evident when, in the last chapter, which is also the title chapter, Atwood argues that fiction writers, perhaps all writers, are motivated by a “fear of and a fascination with mortality,” which propels them, like Odysseus or Dante, to make a journey to what she terms the Underworld, the place where the dead reside. Throughout the book, Atwood has provided examples to prove how...
(The entire section is 1743 words.)