Today's book is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
|Lots of covers around, but this is the one I read all those years ago|
It's a sign of a good book that when you've finished, you recommend it to others - then go and find more books by the author. Margaret Atwood is firmly established as one of the leading novelists of our age, so lucky for me there were plenty more to be found. Not sure what it is about this book that first intrigued me - though I'm pretty sure it was on my sister's recommendation that I even knew about it - but I know what kept me hooked; the voice.
Voice is one of those weird things in books that's hard to describe or define. When it's done well, it's perfectly obvious. If it's bad or bland, you can tell then, too. Still, it's a slippery beast. Just yesterday I was reading an interview with Little, Brown editor Kate Sullivan (here) and came across this:
When you receive manuscript submissions, what are the things you look for? What really catches your eye?
Honestly, I go for voice. That’s an unfortunate answer because voice is something that is notoriously hard to pinpoint and explain, but it’s true. For instance, many people know that I’ve been looking for a zombie novel for years. I’ve received a number of them too, but as of yet haven’t acquired any because I need the voice to be just right. Or as another example, I wasn’t actively looking for fantasy when Ash by Malinda Lo was submitted to me; I was surprised when the agent pitched it to me, but game to try it. And the voice won me over, absolutely seduced me, when I was even a little biased against it.
I will be honest that a killer concept will make me read more of a manuscript, even when I don’t connect with voice immediately. But in the end, it’s the voices in books that make them memorable to readers— Roald Dahl’s subversive, insider narrators; Suzanne Collins’s deft hand at tension; Madeleine L’Engle’s intelligent storytelling.
(Thanks to YA Highway and Michelle Schusterman for that!)
The voice in Handmaid is brilliant and memorable. The protagonist's complex world is made so much more terrifying and believable by her sheer humanity. First-person can be an odd way of writing, and it can go wrong, or just be confusing, if the author doesn't keep track of where they stop and the character starts. But Atwood is a genius, and goes far beyond what's necessarily, creating a brilliantly original concept and then putting that voice into it.
The ending of the book is what got me the most. It's a kind of epilogue, looking back at the book itself from several years in the future. It probably counts as meta-something, with the novel being viewed as a diary that the epilogue characters discuss, just as distanced from it as the reader is. Whatever the meaning, it struck me. Books can be so much more than just the pages, from beginning to end! I thought. Look what she's done here! This is amazing!
And I wanted to do the same thing with my life.
So certainly an inspiring book, and one I plan to re-read. Even if it isn't a Wednesday...