My Weird Obsession With This Dictatorship Art And Politics

After the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel inspired a frantic literary hunt for fresh stories about dystopia and totalitarianism. But Ms. Atwood was a no-show. In part, she said, the…

After the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel inspired a frantic literary hunt for fresh stories about dystopia and totalitarianism. But Ms. Atwood was a no-show. In part, she said, the manuscript came from an unconscious impulse to create art in the midst of a government shutdown. “It’s so ridiculously heartbreaking,” she said, echoing the central themes of her latest novel, Alias Grace, on the line from her Toronto home. The book, which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, revisits 1885 Canada — a place where Canadian-citizen Grace Marks, whose lengthy life is told in the novel, was condemned to life in a mental hospital for the crime of which she had been convicted. Ms. Atwood, who also won an Anthony Prize in 2005 for The Blind Assassin, recalled writing her latest book while a government-imposed labour crisis posed a challenge to production. “It was entirely the result of the fact that people were not getting paid,” she said. “My subconscious was working on a plot at the time of the government shutdown.” At the same time, however, she created Alias Grace for its potential to stir controversy. “It felt in many ways like writing about how our own state of affairs is potentially even worse than it was in Alias Grace,” Ms. Atwood said. Mr. Queller, a former Canadian ambassador to France, said such artistic works “playfully and daringly confront national virtues and national weaknesses and risk being very uncomfortable for many.” He pointed to Mr. Atwood’s 2004 novel, The Blind Assassin, which in certain versions depicted the murder of Kim Jong-il, the late ruler of North Korea. “It’s deeply conservative in certain ways, but Ms. Atwood never really bows to that,” he said. To be in Ms. Atwood’s presence is to see this artist demonstrating an irreverent pride in her country of birth, one rooted in the ambivalence that Americans have felt toward it for decades, but also in a conviction that this is her country’s future. “Part of it is this feeling that we’re in the wrong country,” she said. “We’re on the wrong path.”

Read the full story at The National Post.

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