Margaret Atwood speaks at the Southbank Centre
Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has published no less than 14 novels, alongside a sizeable range of other literary work. She was the winner of the 2000 Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin, and has been both shortlisted and a finalist for numerous others. On Tuesday evening Atwood appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of Literature Autumn Season 2013, to discuss her dystopian speculative fiction trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake, followed by The Year of the Flood and the hugely anticipated final novel, MaddAddam: A Novel, out this month.
She began with a brief comment on writing from different gender perspectives, observing: “For years and years and years, people would say to me: ‘Why do you write from the point of view of a woman?’, not satisfied with the answer ‘Because I’m lazy’.” Then, when she wrote from a male perspective: “As soon as I had done that, they asked me ‘Why didn’t you write it from the point of view of a woman?’”
The talk was given over largely to the research and world-building process for her trilogy. She stressed the speculative aspect of the books and parallels with reality – much of the genetic biological tampering and experimentation already existed in the real world, she said. In 2003, there were glowing green rabbits; spider-goats already existed and other things were in development. It was simply a question of how far people would continue developing. The transplantable human hair sheep, however, was all hers. She thinks there’s a market for it.
Atwood also delved into the ways the technological speculation runs up against the more survivalist and pre-technological parts of her writing. The survivalist aspect, she says, draws heavily on her childhood in remote Quebec in a cabin in the woods. Alongside this is the failing of modern technology and the ways it changes how the world works.
“Turn out the lights: In the moment before the electricity goes off, it might be quite good to live on the 45th floor of a high rise. The moment after that happens, it’s not.”
She answered questions from the audience in the second half and raised alarm bells by pointing out Shell’s investment in the Southbank Centre, though she herself admitted to not knowing whether the arts and oil should exist separately. Clearly, she is not afraid to ask some uncomfortable questions.
MaddAddam: A Novel is published by Bloomsbury at the hardback price of £18.99, and is available in the UK on 29th August 2013. For further information visit here.