The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood

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C.A. Howells (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), xvi + 200pp. Cloth. £45. ISBN 0-521-83966-1; Paper. £15.99. ISBN 0-521-54851-9.

This collection of twelve essays, introduced and edited by Coral Ann Howells, is a welcome addition to the scholarship on Margaret Atwood, and most of the essays attain a high standard. This is not surprising, given that Howells has brought together a range of well-known Atwoodian critics, including Lorraine York, Shannon Hengen, Sharon R. Wilson, Marta Dvorak, Reingard M. Nischik and Eleonora Rao, to explore Atwood's work.

Aimed at an undergraduate market, the essays are relatively jargon-free and concise, ranging over the whole of Atwood's oeuvre up to and including Oryx and Crake. Some of the essays form interesting links; in one example, an essay on power and politics by Pilar Somacarrera is followed immediately by an essay by Madeleine Davies on female bodies, which reinterprets Atwood's use of power through the visual display and surveillance of women; these connections offer alternative but connected ways of viewing Atwood's work. The inevitable overlap in chapters that explore the same texts becomes a benefit of the collection; the committed student has an opportunity to read Atwood's work whilst engaging with a variety of perspectives on the same texts. The authors unsurprisingly quote each other, with one contributor rather over-enthusiastically quoting herself in the last essay.

The collection begins with an Atwood chronology and a helpful introductory essay, followed by David Staines' essay on Atwood and her Canadian context. York's essay on biography/autobiography focuses on Atwood as a text herself, in her role as a Canadian celebrity. …