I feel as though I should probably begin this review with a disclaimer… I am a huge, huge fan of Margaret Atwood. I first read A Handmaid’s Tale as one of my A-level English Literature texts, and have since read all of her published works of fiction and most her poetry and non-fiction. So yes, I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up every morsel of Atwood’s latest book, Burning Questions, which is a collection of her occasional pieces (essays, lectures, book reviews and political commentary etc.) from 2004-2021.
In this latest collection, Atwood covers a huge range of topics from climate change, totalitarianism, the role of the individual, power struggles, her writing, other people’s writing and everything in between. Fans of her novels will enjoy her commentary on her own novels, their inspiration, how they have been received by others, and her changing relationship with them over time.
I found Atwood’s reflections about her late partner, Graeme Gibson, to be particularly poignant and moving. My favourite reads, however, were possibly to ones were she presents us with a self-deprecating caricature of herself, such as in ‘Polonia’, where she recalls giving random strangers advice about making meringues. Atwood’s dark wit runs throughout the essays, and I know that there was a glint in her eye when she penned many of the lines.
Should you read this collection if you’ve only ever read (or even watched) The Handmaid’s Tale? Well yes, if you enjoyed its themes, its wit and it ability to challenge how we think, then you will find plenty more of this in ‘Burning Questions’. You can dip in an out of the pieces, all of which are fairly clearly titled in a way that tells you what you’ll be reading about, and read those which most interest you, or you can read it start to finish in order to gain a greater insight into Atwood’s own concerns and how her thoughts have developed over the last twenty years.
Personally, I think that I read this almost as a self-help guide. I’ve always found Atwood’s writing to full of wisdom and honesty – she says is as it is, and if you don’t like it then that’s okay – and for me, she’s become a kind of spirit guide through adulthood. I know that it’s a book that I will read again and again in the same way that I do with favourite collections of poetry.
Thank you to NetGalley, Chatto and Windus and Margaret Atwood for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review, and to Peter Nicholson for getting hold of a signed copy for me as a birthday present! It’s fabulous!