Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

fiction by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is well known for her dystopian worlds and in this one the novelist peers owl-eyed at coupledom. There is much to recommend about The Heart Goes Last but it’s not one of her best works—and saying so makes me feel like some wrathful CanLit god might come hurling down from the sky and smite me upon my foolish head.

the heart goes last

The narrative structure and plot are constrained within a hetero-binary and the story plods along between its lead characters, Stan and Charmaine; the result is a slow-footed one-two-him-her rhythm, back and forth, back and forth, until it feels less like a masterful hypnosis and more like the result of an insufficient editorial process.

Plot complications come in late and though they somewhat expand, complicate and provide levels of narrative, the complications are kept in service to the couple and their complicated, unrequited, imperiled love. Frankly, I just didn’t care about them. So there, I’ve said it, and my foolish head is still attached to my shoulders.

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Book Review: Bear

fiction by Marian Engel

Though Bear was first published in 1976 it’s still being talked about so I felt compelled to read it. Bear won the Canadian Governor General’s Award and this is partly because the bestiality was clothed in some correct CanLit attire: the requisite references to myth (none of which were satisfying) and the intertextuality of the library setting. At the heart of the plot is a fallacy that blocked my full appreciation of the qualities for which the book has been lauded. A tour de force, said the New York Times. A startlingly alive narrative of the forbidden, said the Washington Post. Canada’s Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, said the Globe and Mail. Margaret Atwood called it “a strange and wonderful book, plausible as kitchens, but shapely as a folktale, and with the same disturbing resonance.”

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