- Scarlet Letters: Margaret Atwood's ‘The Handmaid's Tale’ by Lee Briscoe Thompson, and: Seeing in the Dark: Margaret Atwood's ‘Cat's Eye’ by Arnold E. Davidson (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 68, Number 1, Winter 1998/99
- pp. 582-584
- View Citation
- Additional Information
582 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Lispector, and Marina Tsvetaeva, declares humorously that since 1955 her nationality has been Literature. She considers herself a poet preoccupied mainly with language and creativity, but as this book shows, she is also a philosopher whose profound concern for truth and passionate devotion to others place her firmly in a strong Jewish spiritual tradition. Her writing process, which seeks to reach the invisible, grows from the inner depths of her unconscious and involves her whole 'living and complete body.' It also entails an act of love: a gift to others who live in this world and are also present within her. Her constant play on language and her gift for coining new words and metaphors which open her texts onto many levels of meanings originate partly from her father, who had forged a sort of family idiom mockingly grafted on the German language, thus initiating her into 'juggling' with signifiers. They also relate to her need to transcend language and its cliches in order to reach a 'beyond' which often reflects a refusal to choose between two seemingly opposite terms. The openness or 'undecidability ' of her texts, informed by a quest for truth, makes her very close to Derrida and his deconstructive project. Calle-Gruber's critical texts, which are themselves very Cixousian through their poetic play on language, use, appropriately, such subtitles as 'Beyond-sex, beyond-text,' 'Reach the unknown ,' 'A Subject at risk,' and 'The oxymoric narrative,' in an insightful attempt to grasp the specificity and seduction of Cixous's fictions. R.ootprints is a most important book, which should prompt yonnger readers and new scholars to approach Cixous's works from a more diversified viewpoint. But despite its many qualities, I found it slightly disappointing on two accounts. First the 'Inter Views' seem to ignore the political aspect of Cixous's career. Indeed, Cixous has written a poetic fiction about Nelson Mandela (Manne) and a play about the oppression of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge (Norodom Sihanouk) and another about Gandhi and his political ideal (L'Indiade); moreover, her texts often allude to many historical or political subjects (the Holocaust 'gynocide/ Algerian women, and so on). Lately, she has spoken publicly on behalf of inunigrants in France. But the book remains more or less silent about this major aspect of her life and works. Finally, I thought Prenowitz's translation rather literal and sometimes awkward, although I know the book must have been extremely difficult to translate. (JEANNELLE LAILLOU SAVONA) Lee Briscoe Thompson. Scarlet Letters: Margaret Atwood's 'The Halldmaid's Tale' Canadian Fiction Studies 34· ECW Press. 102. $14.95 Arnold E. Davidson. Seeing in the Dark: Margaret Atwood's 'Cal's Eye' Canadian Fiction Studies 35· ECW Press. 112. $14.95 Margaret Atwood is a prolific and challenging novelist whose fiction has not only intrigued an increasing number of readers but has also generated a vast critical industry. Faced with the evidence of Atwood's international HUMANITIES 583 fame in the huge body of book reviews and academic criticism from a range of theoretical perspectives, how is a student going to meet the double challenge of reading an Atwood novel for pleasure while becoming acquainted with the key debates around that text? These two studies are written in response to that need. They are produced in ECW's ongoing series of student guides to major Canadian fiction, which now includes all of Atwood's novels to the end of the 198os. This useful series follows a predictable format, so that each volume duly includes a chronology of the author's life and works, sections on the importance of the novel and its critical reception, plus analysis and interpretation of the text and an annotated bibliography. Lee BriscoeThompson's study of The Handmaid's Tale is a reliable factual guide, but rather a flat critical performance which does not account for the enormous popularity of Atwood's international bestseller. The discussion of literary and cultural contexts situates the novel in relation to Atwood's abiding concerns with sexual politics and ecological and humanitarian issues, while signallingits special relevance to American anxieties about the rise of the New Right in the 198os...