The Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood
Howells, Coral Ann, British Journal of Canadian Studies
Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson, The Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 156 pp. Cased. £40. ISBN 978-0-521- 87298-0. Paper. £11.99. ISBN 978-0-521-69463-6.
As an Introduction to Atwood's life and works, to her cultural and historical contexts and the critical reception of her writing, this short book performs its function admirably. In fact, the list above itemises the four chapters of the book following the Cambridge series format, and within this structure Macpherson always manages to be entertaining and informative. Sometimes her enthusiasm for her subject transcends the limits of the format, notably in the first and last chapters. 'Life' covers familiar biographical material, signalling Atwood's generic range, her insistent experimentalism and her electronic debut with her 'LongPen' and her recent enthusiasm for blogging and tweeting. Macpherson introduces Atwood as international literary celebrity, then most engagingly she offers a personal glimpse of the woman's wit and humorous intelligence by quoting anecdotes from her own 2007 interview.
'Contexts' discusses Atwood's position as a Canadian woman writer, from her role in the construction of a distinctive English-Canadian literary canon in the 1970s to her present eminence as Canadian cultural export and critic of the government's proposals to cut funding for the arts. The chapter then segues into an analysis of Atwood's literary and cultural criticism, offering incisive summaries of her six non-fiction texts from Survival (1972) to Curious Pursuits (2005) and Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, based on her Massey lectures (2008). Macpherson also addresses debates around Atwood's position as a feminist writer, warning that critics need to be as discriminating as Atwood herself, for her writing combines engagement and critique of changing fashions within feminist politics. …