I’ve never understood the mass appeal of Margaret Atwood. To me, she’s always been part of that snooty, high-brow, Toronto-centric, Upper Canada-patronizing literary intelligentsia community of writers that use their words to show off how intellectually superior they are. Fine, you’re intellectually superior – do you have to clobber everybody else over the head with it? It’s one of the reasons why I resisted becoming part of that artsy-fartsy writing community early in my writing life because people like that drive me crazy. I’m sure Atwood is a lovely person but her connection with that type of writing aura has ruined my appreciation for her as a writer. Please note that I haven’t said anything about her Nytol-like voice.
In school, we were never assigned anything by Atwood until university with The Handmaid’s Tale. Unfortunately, I had read some of her earlier works by myself and my eyes rolled around so much I needed to be laid flat on my back with two pillows bound to my head with a large ocean liner’s tether. It probably didn’t help that The Handmaid’s Tale was made into a truly horrible film. Since then, I think she has tried to appeal to a more mass audience by writing more post-apocalyptic sci-fi bent material.
In Canada, there has always been two Margarets when it comes to talking about famous writers. I am a fan of the other Margaret – Margaret Laurence. I appreciate Laurence more because she speaks her mind and writes with the purpose of speaking to the everyday-person – not to a select group of elites. Her ‘Nice coming to Toronto… nice leaving too’ speaks to me. There is a clarity in her writing that appeals to many more people than Atwood. The people, places and situations in her writing are familiar to everyone. The unfortunate aspect of Laurence is that she is no longer around to continue her work. Her body of work, cut short by her death, stands the test of time and in my opinion, should be held in much more higher regard.
When I was just beginning as a new writer (although it was nice to see a Canadian writer being acknowledged internationally) it was a bit redundant to see Atwood (and other established, well-known, commercially successful Canadian writers) published again and again. They had one commercial (or critical) success and based on that success, were published again… and again despite the novel’s commercial failure. I guess that’s all you need – one success and you’re in. Douglas Coupland is still living off the after burn of ‘Generation X’ 20 years and counting. Luck – that’s what every new writer needs.
Maybe I’m a little jealous and envious of Atwood and those other commercially successful Canadian novelists. It’s what I want – to make a living at writing novels instead of spinning my wheels trying to grab a piece of a very slim publishing pie. I suppose that’s what every young singer feels when they see someone with negligible talent hitting it big. *Cough* Beiber.
It’s also quite unnerving to see psuedo-celebrities write books about their addictions and trifling lives and call themselves authors – or even writers. Ridiculous. It’s quite the slap in the face. So Margaret and friends, I hope that one day you will have enough money cobbled away in your bank account to ease yourself out of the way of other burgeoning writers who want a crack at the spoils of the publishing biz. Otherwise, luck, it would seem, would be the only solution to new writers cracking open the locked gates of Canadian writing.
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