Margaret Atwood: Conversations

by Earl G. Ingersoll
276 pages,
ISBN: 0920608801

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A Hoot To Read
by Brian Fawcett

I`VE NEVER HAI) strong feelings -- either pro or con -- about Margaret Atwood`s novels. But my respect for her as a public figure, and as a model of how a writer ought to act in the face of self important academics, media morons, and the ignorant and aggressive has been growing ever since the night in 1970 when I made a smart-alec remark to her and had my head taken off at the neck by her razor-sharp rejoinder. The experience left me chastened enough to he unwilling to go back for more. But from a safe distance, I`ve watched her evolve from a wittily bad-tempered darling of our English departments to a writer of genuine international significance. Along the way she has been a remarkably clear-headed spokesperson on a wide variety of important issues -- matters concerning PEN, the Writers` Union, and political initiatives Such as the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. I`ve come to admire her unwavering sensibleness, her irony, and her sense (if humour. She never allows herself to be played for a buffoon by the media, as so many other Canadian writers do. She is always startlingly concise, and she has a wider and firmer grasp of the mainstream than any other writer in Canada -arguably in North America. Yet she never quite runs with the herd, and her antipathy to acred cows is absolute. She is also as merciless towards fools today as she was in 1970. The 21 interviews collected by Earl Ingersoll for this volume cover a period of 17 years, 1972 to 1989. Throughout, even in the sophomoric early interviews, she displays a characteristic ability to transform stupid or narrowly sectarian questions into interesting ones, and to let her interviewers know when they are speaking like idiots. This Volume is, to put it very plainly, a hoot to read, and the credit goes almost entirely to Atwood herself. The best interviews, not surprisingly, are with women, especially with women who are her intellectual equals or near-equals. In the two 1978 interviews with Joyce Carol Oates she is less guarded than elsewhere, and both women are marvelously articulate. The 1972 interview with Carleton University`s Christopher Levenson, at the other end of the scale, Must have left poor Levenson`s ears smoking. Ingersoll is a State University of New York English professor, and his selection tends to run according to academe`s genre-obsessed agenda. That`s a minor criticism, because there is much in the interviews that goes well beyond academic interest. They will, however, leave many readers with an appetite to hear Atwood speak to a larger range of issues and concerns. I just hope that such a volume doesn`t come out before I finish rereading all her novels.

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