This is a brilliant novel, and Margaret Atwood is certainly one of my favourite authors, so I really hope you enjoy reading this! Please do not just have a look at my summary of the plot and use this as a substitute for reading the book yourself. Hopefully, you will be encouraged to go on and read the book and enjoy it yourself.
The novel's protagonist is Elaine Risley, who is a famous painter of modern art who, as the novel opens, is returning to Toronto, the city of her childhood, for a gallery showing of various of her paintings. The novel operates in two separate time frames, as, on the one hand, we are presented with Elaine in the present and her struggles to accept her aging and reaching fifty. However, as the novel progresses, a series of flashbacks return us to her childhood and these rather painful memories explore the way in which she was mercilessly bullied as a child by a group of girls led by one called Cordelia. This narrative unflinchingly explores the girls' cruelty and the impact of this on Cordelia as Elaine has her self-esteem destroyed.
However, the past and present intersect through Elaine's paintings, which are shown to elaborate and comment upon key moments and relationships that Elaine had in her childhood. The juxtaposition of the past and the present allows Atwood to develop a number of key themes, such as the impact of bullying in our childhood on our later lives, the changes that have occurred in Toronto as a city between the 40s and the 80s and the relationship between memory and identity. Above all, this novel is famed for its realistic and disturbing depiction of the horrors of bullying and what it can do to us as humans.