This book took me a long time to read. Not because it was difficult to read but because I would read it in patches searching for something to keep my interest and put it down again when I failed to find anything and it would be sometimes days, sometimes weeks before I would pick it up again. In its defence, this is a long book. Actually, that’s not really a defence at all. It’s a long book in which nothing much of any interest happens.
The book is populated with a succession of characters who don’t engender any empathy – the alcoholic father who all but sells his daughter to a rival to save the family business, a daughter who cheats on her husband from the word go, another daughter who is selfish and immature and kills herself when she finds out that her sister was having an affair with the object of her childish affections, a sister-in-law without a single redeeming quality, a granddaughter who throws away her life on drugs and multiple men, a great granddaughter who abandons the entire family (although who can blame her?), a judgemental servant and a bossy servant’s daughter.
The format weaves a long family history with supplementary newspaper articles and chapters of a frankly not very good novel-within-a-novel. The narrator is Iris, an old lady at the time of the story’s telling. She doles out plot points in a drip-feed fashion to make the reader think there’s going to be some sort of important reveal in the end – but there isn’t.
This is the second Margaret Atwood book I’ve read and although I think she’s an important voice (how can you deny the significance of someone who sees the world so clearly as to articulate, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”), it will probably be some time before I choose to read another.
Even with all its faults, I don’t regret having read this book but I do wonder how it won such a prestigious prize.
*First published on Goodreads 3 June 2015