Charlotte Square's finest
MEET THE AUTHOR MARGARET ATWOOD Charlotte Square Gardens, 25 Aug,
When Margaret Atwood won the Booker Prize earlier this year for The Blind Assassin, you could smell the pungent whiff of begrudgery emanating from dark corners of the literary establishment. Having been unsuccessfully shortlisted (well, robbed) three times, the prolific Canadian author was compared to those veteran film stars that are awarded Oscars for their ability to negotiate the stairs of the Dorothy Chandler pavilion without the aid of a zimmer frame.
What her detractors - most of them failed novelists and poets in their own right - apparently overlooked in their rush to pour scorn on Atwood’s achievement, was that The Blind Assasin stood head and shoulders above her fellow nominees in terms of the things that really matter to judging panels: story, characters, humour, ambition and interest.
Spanning most of the 20th century, The Blind Assassin charts the downfall of a wealthy manufacturing family, as narrated by eldest sister Iris Chase Griffen, now in her 805. The book works on several levels: as an elderly woman’s wry memoir and chronicle of the disappointments and petty triumphs of old age, as an account of mid-century Canadian history, including the recession years and the upsurge of Red activity, and as a sharp, satirical view of Torontonian society, with each slippery wrung on the social ladder being represented by Atwood’s flesh-and-blood characters.
Yet, if these weren’t virtues enough, and if prizes
really are awarded for longevity rather than merit, surely
Atwood’s glittering career is more worthy of a lifetime achievement award than most.
Atwood made an immediate impact on the literary scene in the late 605 with her debut The Edible Woman, quickly following it up with the influential Surfacing, a detective pastiche. Since then, she has worked tirelessly, producing around a dozen collections of poetry, ten novels and six collections of short stories as
A profound writer of story, characters, humour, ambition and interest
well as children’s books, several non-fiction works and collections of essays, television and film scripts.
She remains best-known for her 1984 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was made into a film starring Faye Dunaway though, for many, her masterpiece is 1996’s Alias Grace a historical novel-cum-detective story based on a notorious real-life murder case involving a Torontonian maidservant, Grace Marks. Yet, the author’s formidable talents grow stronger with each new work.
Atwood’s importance as a writer of contemporary fiction cannot be underestimated. She was one of the first writers to put Canada on the literary map, as wholly distinct from its noisy neighbour. And, as a chronicler of women’s lives in the last century, she remains unrivalled. This literary Grande Dame’s Edinburgh appearance is something of a coup and, though undoubtedly sold out many times over, will be one of the highlights of this year’s Festival.
The best festival reads
MEET THE AUTHOR
Charlotte Square Gardens, 23 Aug, 11.30am.
This man is gold dust
In the early 90s a book appeared in the shops With a unbearably cute boy in an old Arsenal kit on the front cover. Its contents told an all-too-common tale of football obsession. love. loss and the passage of time and single» handedly opened the door to whooping lad—lit bison herds that roamed the pastures of that caring sharing decade. Tony Parsons may sell more books than him these days but there's only one daddy and he's got lots of tools, to misguote Ray Winston in Scum.
Fever Pitch was basically an autobiography of lost innocence and learning of the type that Blake Morrison would later turn |lll(‘ his own personal genre. No one could have presumed back then however. that Hornby was capable of writing an accomplished populist novel. In 1991') with High Fir/e/itv he did Just that and. ama/ingly for a new British writer. sold shedloads in the US.
The flawed but interesting About A
14 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 21$ Aug (3 Sep 7001
Boy followed along With two fine anthologies Speaking With Angels and My Favourite Year. Fever Pitch was made into an appalling film with Colin Firm and i-iig/i Fidelity was made into a good film with John Cusack while l)e Nii'o has optioned About A Boy.
llornby is gold dust and his new book How To Be Sood doesn't disappoint. being his funniest to date. Through narrator [)i‘. Katie Carr. who is watching hei unemployable husband turn from the angi'iest man in l lolloway into a sell appointed guru of common good. l-lornby basically investigates whether it is possible to live a righteous life outside the constraints of organised ieligions. He has just finished an exhaustive reading loui and is currently resting tiying to spend time with his son and catching up will his pop criticism work for the New Yorker. He Will however be givuig one exclusive reading at this year's Book l estival. tl’aul Dale)
I v.s. Naipaul In his glorious career, the only prize to have eluded V8. is the Nobel, but his debut visit to the Book Fest will hopefully make up for it. See preview. 26 Aug, 5. 30pm.
I Imprisoned Writers A pick of the festival's authors will be reading from some writers who have been put away purely for their beliefs. Amnesty, PEN and Index on Censorship are supporting the events. Until 26 Aug, 5.30pm.
I Zadie Smith A rare visit from the award-winning (and just too young) author of White Teeth. See preview. 25 Aug, 5.30pm. I Niall Grifﬁths & Kevin Sampson Two hard-edged Liverpudlians give us their versions of a tortured city. In an amusing manner. See preview. 24 Aug, noon.
I Nick Hornby See preview, left. 23 Aug, 7 7.30am.
I Marina Warner The analyser of myth gives us the wrap on her latest, The Leto Bund/e. See preview. 27 Aug, 72.30pm.
I Jostein Gaarder The author of the majestic Sophie ’s Wor/d is both deep and witty. See preview. 25 Aug. 3.30pm. 8pm. I Richard Holloway The former Bishop of Edinburgh treats us to entertaining and controversial views. See preview. 25 Aug, 8pm; 27 Aug. 5pm.
I Margaret Atwood See preview, left. 25 Aug, 7 7.30am.