Negotiating with the Dead

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 brilliant references to myth and literature make this critical work by Margaret Atwood almost as fascinating as one of her novels.

Sources for Further Study

Choice 40 (October, 2002): 275.

Library Journal 127 (March 15, 2002): 80.

The Spectator 288 (March 9, 2002): 44.

The Times Literary Supplement, May 31, 2002, p. 24.

The Women’s Review of Books 19 (May, 2002): 10.