Review of 'Margaret Atwood'


I have always been a fan of the outspoken Margaret Atwood not because she is a fellow Canadian but because she is an excellent author with interesting things to say (said in interesting ways). She has often courted controversy with her comments but she has always been willing to defend them. When I heard of her coming to London to talk at the Southbank Centre I bought tickets straightaway and I am glad I did as it was a full house…


Southbank director Jude Kelly came onto the stage before the interview to introduce Margaret Atwood indicating that it was Atwood's only London appearance (that we saw her speak just the day previous at “New Scientist Live” at the Excel exhibition centre - also in London - is, I suppose, by the by). Her short introduction touched on the importance of the woman authors that have appeared recently at Southbank including Zadie Smith and Naomi Klein. Only the odd slip of the tongue in saying “…woman and other (!) minorities…” marred her appearance.

Atwood was interviewed by Gaby Wood, journalist and Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation who tried to keep things fairly serious, on the agenda, but was often thwarted by the mischievous Atwood who began the evening talking about her handbag that has gained a bit of a following since appearing with her on stage at the Emmy's (where it stood out for being so plain). Oddly she had the bag talking to the audience in an early show of perhaps being slightly uncomfortable…

The focus of the interview was on two of Atwood's works: “The Handmaid's Tale” and “Alias Grace”.

Handmaids Tale

Atwood was not shy of admitting she is grateful for the newfound popularity the recent television series has provided. She had a few stories about the series including that it was filmed during the recent US elections so the filmmakers knew that what was enfolding around them very much mirrored events in the book so would have deeper resonance on it's release.

Atwood was surprised and pleased about recent silent protests against the US political situation that have sprung up with people donning red hoods like the main character of the book. She is proud that her novel in some way serves as a rallying cry against the current political situation there.

Alias Grace

Before talking of Atwood's historic novel “Alias Grace” a trailer was shown of the upcoming miniseries that premieres on Netflix in November:

“Alias Grace” is based on a real story of a maid in Canada accused of murdering her employers who escapes to the United States. It was never clear whether the woman actually was involved in their deaths or not which made the story very interesting to Atwood.

The dedication is to two people, one of whom, Atwood explained, was a lady who was accused of witchcraft but survived being lynched (Atwood quipped that she hoped she would have as strong a neck…), the other was to a university professor who taught Atwood about the Salem witch trials in a course she had not initially wished to attend but is glad she did.

On Writing

Later in the talk Gaby steered Atwood into talking about other aspects of her career as an author. Atwood commented that to one extend or another, the writing of each her books changed her personally.

One particularly interesting conversation was about abandoned works where Atwood admitted there were two that sprung to mind one being a 8 character novel with a complicated structure that she abandoned after 200 pages as nothing had happened and she realized that even if she got to 1000 pages still nothing will have happened. She touched on the fact that she often does not know when writing how the book will go as it is often the situation and characters that are driving the story. Regarding the second work she abandoned writing she told of being in a fishing hut in Norfolk where she was so bored of her own writing that she ended up reading romances instead.

A poignant recollection from Atwood was about sitting opposite a Korean lady at a recent awards banquet for Ai Weiwei. Atwood learned that the lady had put together a bucket list ten years earlier on which “Meeting Marget Atwood” appeared. The woman had been so moved by Atwood's novel Cats Eye she wanted to meet Atwood to tell her in person how much it meant to her.

On Politics

Atwood commented that there is often unrest when the differences between people become too great such as economic disparity. She sees society as currently being on a bit of a knife edge where it could go either way. She suggests that we figure out which way we want the world to be and act accordingly. She would like to live in a world where the protests that immediately followed the inauguration of Trump were not necessary.

Questions and Answers

After the interview there were no questions from the audience but rather questions submitted via Twitter were discussed. When asked about whether she had regrets about anything she had written she jokingly answered that she wished a character in “Oryx and Crake” had used the Internet instead of a CD-Rom.

When asked about whether she thinks she is an optimist or not Atwood said that authors are optimistic by nature in that they are optimistic they will be able to start writing a book, finish it, sell it and eventually have people read it. If that is not optimism, what is?

Regarding writing of “dystopian” novels Atwood commented that a dystopia can happen anywhere and at any time given the right circumstances.

The 90 minute talk was very relaxed and enjoyable to listen to. Throughout the evening the Gaby was often contradicted by Atwood in a joking manner which was quite refreshing and charming as this seemed to show that she had little to prove to anyone. Atwood still is a force to be reckoned with.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2017-10-02

Royal Festival Hall

Location: London (England)

Address: Southbank Centre Belvedere Road London SE1 8XX

Public Transport: TUBE Embankment TUBE Waterloo NRLOGO Waterloo

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7960 4200


Opened as part of the “Festival of Britain” in 1951, the SouthBank Centre is forever reinventing itself with cutting-edge, contemporary as well as classic entertainment and social commentary. Looking a bit dated the venue is always busy with a number of restaurants below the terrace by the river and beside it as well as regular food market behind the building on Belvedere Road. Great, though small, gift shop too. To me it is almost like a university campus at times…