One of the world's most celebrated authors, Margaret Atwood has written a collection of smart and entertaining fictional essays, in the genre of her previous books Good Bones and Murder in the Dark. Chilling and witty, prescient and personal, delectable and tart, these highly imaginative tales tackle a broad range of subjects, reflecting the times we live in with deadly accuracy and knife-edge precision. Punctuated with wonderful illustrations by the author, they are vintage Atwood.
I love Margaret Atwood. I have loved her since I read The Handmaid’s Tale some 20 plus years ago. I loved her when I drove six hours in an old, beat-up Chevy toting a pile of books to hear her read at the Harvard Book Store Café in Boston. She graciously signed all eight, and she smiled, and she thanked me, and I loved her more.
Shamefully, I have not read much by her the last couple of years, but The Tent is the first step in remedying that situation. This slim volume contains so many of her thoughts and musings, her streams of consciousness, so much of her humor, her intelligence, I hardly know where to begin describing anything on these pages.
My favorite piece is the eponymous entry, and it begins:
“You’re in a tent. It’s vast and cold outside, very vast, very cold. It’s a howling wilderness…But you have a candle in your tent. You can keep warm” (143).
“The trouble is, your tent is made of paper. Paper won’t keep anything out. You know you must right on the walls, on the paper walls, on the inside of your tent. You must write upside down and backwards, you must cover every available space on the paper with writing” (144).
“Wind comes in, your candle tips over and flares up, and a loose tent-flap catches fire, and through the widening black-edged gap you can see the eyes of the howlers, red and shining in the light from your burning paper shelter, but you keep on writing anyway because what else can you do?” (146).
I guess the paper tent could not protect her from fans toting bags of books either. Get this book and read it now. That’s an order! 5 stars.
The titular story comes near the end of the book, and it makes the preceding pages all make sense. Here, Atwood writes about writing; the reason for writing, the drive to write, and the futility of writing. It is one of the most effective pieces in The Tent, and the one that I immediately reread.
This is a book that, after reading once, I know I will look to periodically for inspiration. It furthers my admiration for Atwood, and shows that a book does not have to be hundreds of pages to make you think.
The ones that stuck out for me were "The Animals Reject Their Names", a poem which details a sort of un-creation; "Take Charge", which undresses several similar situations through analogy and renders them somehow ridiculous, and somehow meaningful; and "Faster", less than a page long, which is perfectly applicable to our adaptation of technology, and is almost Luddite, but manages not to be.
This is a book to own, I think - I got it at the library but I might buy it anyway. It's one I think I will think about and want to revisit. Plus, it's not the best type of book to read quickly - it would be nicer to muse over each piece individually.
But I did enjoy some of the satirical quotes from the stories. Here are some of my favorites:
“No more photos. Surely there are enough. No more shadows of myself thrown by light onto pieces of paper, onto squares of plastic.” – p. 25
“You’re not my real parents, every child has thought. I’m not your real child. But with orphans, it’s true. What freedom, to thumb your nose authentically!” – p. 29
“What are we do to? The child sex trade is not for us: our children are unattractive and rude, and – due to the knowledge of our history – have a bad habit of mugging prospective customers and shoving them over cliffs.” – p. 60
The Tent is super short and a very quick read, so if you’re a huge Atwood fan, check it out. Some of the stories were great, some were bizarre.
Have you read them? What do you think?
Thanks for reading,
Rebecca @ Love at First Book
My favourite stories are: Winter’s Tales, Our Cat Enters Heaven, Post-Colonial, Faster, Eating the Birds, Nightingale, But It Could Still.
Admittedly, several of the pieces went right over my head, but overall, most were succinct but profound. My favorite essay was one about cat heaven, where a family cat died, met God and asked if he could catch the “mice” in the field. God corrected the cat, saying they were actually human souls that he should capture and torture as long as he can: “Our heaven is their hell, said God. I like a balanced universe.” (page 65). Perhaps it’s my dry humor, but I found that line laugh-out-loud funny (perhaps because I have cats who love to play with my head here on earth).
The Tent is a nice companion book to Atwood’s fiction, revealing another side to the dynamic writing of Margaret Atwood. This is a must-read for Atwood fans.
Basically, it's 155 pages of really good random stuff by Margaret Atwood. As if Atwood had a blog. And be honest. If Atwood had a blog, wouldn't you read it?
Very enjoyable, very quick to read, but better if interspersed with other reading matter or they all blur together and you don't get the impact.
This collection began slowly, leaving me feeling a little disconnected and unimpressed, but not for long. At some point, fairly early on, the writing got a hold of me and didn't let go.