Finished The Testaments? Here’s what to read next by the woman who created Gilead.
After sharing 2019’s Booker Prize with the incredible Bernardine Evaristo, Margaret Atwood, who won for The Testaments, saluted her co-winner: “I would have thought I would have been too elderly, and I kind of don’t need the attention, so I’m very glad that you’re getting some.” Proof that being a legendary writer doesn’t mean you can’t be gracious to boot…
In tribute to Atwood’s 17 books of poetry, 16 novels, 10 books of essays, eight pieces of short fiction, eight children’s books, one graphic novel plus an era-defining TV adaptation, we present just 10 of Atwood’s books that will leave you energised, excited and enraged about the world we live in. We know we say it a lot – but in this case it’s really true: “Praise be”.
The Blind Assassin (2000)
Complex, funny, clever and ingenious, The Blind Assassin is a book that should be read over a cold weekend tucked away from the world (it won the Booker Prize in 2000). Atwood herself has described how the story took some unexpected turns (two characters she planned on including had an affair which took over the whole plot and they’re now in a cupboard “doubtless fornicating to this very day”). She eventually landed on the story of Iris, who reflects on the death of her sister Laura, whose book was published posthumously (the eponymous The Blind Assassin – the book’s novel within a novel). As Iris peels back the layers of the war and the sisters’ marriages, secrets come to the surface and the real truth of the women’s lives is revealed.
Eating Fire (2010)
Speak for us (to whom?)
Some say: Avenge us (on whom?)
Some say: Take our place.
Some say: Witness
Others say (and these are women)
Be happy for us.”
Everyone should have this, ahem, fiery collection of Atwood’s poetry on their bookshelves. Uniting work from 1965-1995, it’s a collection that brings together many of her running themes – being a woman, fairy tales and myths, a collective yearning and dark warnings of nature and the future. Dip in and unleash your imagination is our recommendation.
Alias Grace (1996)
Based on real-life events in 19th-century Canada, and now a Netflix series in its own right, Alias Grace was also inspired by the factual account of Canadian author, Susanna Moodie and one of Atwood’s own poems. Grace Marks is a serving girl who’s been found guilty (along with a stable hand) of killing her master and his housekeeper. But is she really guilty? A doctor by the name of Simon Jordan tries to uncover the truth but is Grace weaving a tale, in the grip of a psychological condition or even possessed by the angry spirit of a dead friend? Written with verve and tension, it’s a historical thriller that’ll leave you fascinated by the tale of Grace.
Cat's Eye (1988)
For any woman who’s struggled with female friendships (all of us, then), Cat’s Eye is a moving exploration of the shifting dynamics between women and how our childhoods can shape our later lives and self-belief. Elaine Risley is a successful artist but, as she reflects on her unusual upbringing and her teenage relationships with three girls, she begins to remember manipulation and bullying and the effect it had on her then, and has on her now. Facing down her main friend and tormentor, Elaine ultimately finds closure and a cathartic release.
Oryx & Crake (2003)
The first in a trilogy of speculative fiction (followed up by The Year Of The Flood in 2003 and MaddAddam in 2013) is set in a post-apocalyptic world where genetically modified creatures called “Crakers” live near a character called Snowman. Reflecting on the past and a new world of biological inventions, Oryx & Crake (like The Handmaid’s Tale) is both chilling and captivating thanks to its exploration of events that are already happening – Atwood is just riffing on the themes we all need to think about (biomedical research, the earth’s limited resources and the effects of global warming).
The Robber Bride (1993)
If you’re in need of a rollicking, addictive read then The Robber Bride has you covered as the amoral, greedy, lying and downright alarming Zenia (the eponymous bride) is here to rip apart some lives and relationships. The book kicks off as three friends meet for lunch – the reason they’re friends is because the now-dead Zenia has messed up their hopes and dreams for what seems to be her own entertainment. However, just as they carefully dance on her grave, Zenia is spotted alive and well.
The Heart Goes Last (2016)
This is a divisive one: some people love it, some people… Set in an America that’s fallen on seriously rough times, Charmaine and Stan are living in their car when they apply for places in a social experiment called the Positron Project in the town of Consilience. There, they will be given a safe home and security and all they need to do is give it up to move into a jail cell every second month… Unsurprisingly, things soon start to go awry and Atwood piercingly unpicks a world of corporate needs and consumerism with sheer delight.
Lady Oracle (1976)
“I planned my death carefully, unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.” Playing fast and loose with the tropes of romantic novels and fairy tales, Lady Oracle is the story of Joan Foster, a novelist who’s hiding her true identity and her past from the men in her life. Winning success with her new book, she’s then faced with blackmail so ups sticks and runs… Exploring the past, the present and what it means to truly inhabit your own life, Lady Oracle is both entertaining and enlightening.
The Edible Woman (1969)
Often referred to as Atwood’s breakout fictional work, The Edible Woman is a darkly humoured take on what happens when women begin to see themselves as a consumable product – by society, by men – packaged up to meet requirements. As Marian, the main character, becomes more and more consumed by this very idea, she begins to empathise with food, unable to eat meat and eggs then vegetables and cake… With talk of a TV adaptation, it’s proof that once again Atwood was light-years ahead of an era when women must present themselves both publicly and professionally as groomed, self-sufficient and without flaw.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
When Atwood first started writing The Handmaid’s Tale it was in reaction to President Reagan’s rightwing agenda in the 1980s; little did she know it would become even more eerily relevant four decades later as Trump would begin to strip back women’s rights and access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Thanks to the iconic TV adaptation and the huge success of its sequel, The Testaments, The Handmaid’s Tale’s power continues to grow and warn new generations of women that we can never take our freedoms for granted and that we must continue to protect the freedoms of women, children, migrants and beyond, as the world grows increasingly complex.
Images: Supplied by publishers