Monday, 29 September 2014

Stone Mattress - Margaret Atwood

An interesting set of stories, where some are better than the others.

Margaret Atwood is quite a revered name. I have heard her more than read her books . Her books Blind Assasin and Handmaid's Tale are quite famous though I couldn't muster the courage to pick it up yet. Perhaps, my fear was that she was too "high brow" for me. Therefore when, I got this book for review, it gave me a chance to overcome my inhibitions and discover her writing.


It is basically a set of short stories where the first three stories seem to be linked as the characters are enmeshed in these three stories. It is more of a 3D perception of characters where a change of voice and perception, throw the same incident in a different angle. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it. The Stone Mattress, which forms the title of the book, surprisingly enough was towards the end. I would have thought it would be the first one in the book. But nonetheless, that one as well is an enjoyable read. There is a strong theme of old age running through the stories. The characters have all lived a long life and therefore the stories contain a big timespan which make a crucial contribution to the plot.

What works:

  • Atwood's description of an old authress living in a big house, while a snow storm is raging outside is terrific to say the least. In Alphin Land, I felt the Canadian winter raging across my window as Constance, tries to make sense of her surroundings, stocking on supplies, with her dead husband hovering in the background. 

  • I loved the way Atwood conveys the sense of loneliness, while talking about this fantasy game created by Constance. This mixing the old and the new was very well done in my opinion.
  • Stone mattress works on a more emotional level and is a case of revenge. Again, she conveys facts in a detached manner as Verna comes across Bob who destroyed her life, on a  cruise and seeks revenge. 
  • The Dead Hand Loves yYou is also an enjoyable read. How, a chance promise turns Jack's life upside down. It has an element of surprise and again the old age theme is dominant in the story.

What doesn't:

  • Some stories seemed like fillers and were a chore to get through. Though freeze-dried groom had an element of suspense running through it, it felt a bit bland and forced when compared to the other stories.

  • The Dark Lady, the third story in the book, is an extension of the first two stories. However, though the first two stories seemed to have substance, it seemed to fizzle out till you get to the third one. It was a bit dragging although things did look up once you got to the second half of the story, since it starts making sense then. 

Well, the best part of reading short stories is you can dip in and out of it. Some stories are gems which show a lot of insight and objectivity. However, some as I said are boring and bland.  Perhaps, I found it repetitive and it failed to engage my "low brow" sensibilities.

An ok sort of a read, aimed at the literary kind and not the casual reader.

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