Everybody's Reading

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Interview with Melissa Studdard

About Melissa Studdard

Melissa Studdard’s debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, was recently released by Saint Julian Press. She is also the author of the best­selling novel Six Weeks to Yehidah; its companion journal, My Yehidah (both on All Things That Matter Press); and The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award, the International Book Award, the Readers’ Favorite Award, and two Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards. I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast was listed as one of Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts' Best Books of 2014-2015. Melissa’s poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, blogs, and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, Connecticut Review, Pleiades,  and Poets & Writers. In addition to writing, Melissa serves as the host of VIDA Voices & Views and an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence college and is a professor for the Lone Star College System and a teaching artist for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative. Her website is https://melissastuddard.com/

Here, Jonathan Taylor interviews poet and novelist Melissa Studdard, whose collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast was reviewed in October 2016 on Everybody's Reviewing here

JT: Melissa, I hugely enjoyed your poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, which seemed to me original, strange and often sublime. At the same time, your neo-Romanticism is also accompanied by an eye for the beauty of the everyday - so that the sublime mixes with the mundane ("Washing clothes ... is an act of prayer," you say in one poem, and another is entitled "Starry Night, with Socks"). For me, I would say this was one of the hallmarks of your style - but do tell me if I'm wrong. How would you describe your style?

MS: I love that assessment, Jonathan - especially that you called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast “strange.” In pointing out the commingling of the mundane and sublime, you nailed not only my style, but also how I experience the world. I grew up in a secular home. My father is agnostic, and my mother is spiritual with a deep curiosity about supernatural mysteries. We didn’t go to church, but I would sit at the top of the jungle gym in my back yard and talk to god. I believed and still believe that god is in my backyard. That’s part of it. Also, there’s something a monk said to me years ago when I was learning Buddhist meditation. He said, “When you learn to relax inside your mind, you can be on permanent vacation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” You don’t need to go anywhere or seek anything. The beach, the flower, the mountain - they are all inside you. So, yes, I carry them with me when I vacuum and put on socks. Then I realize that vacuum cleaners and socks are sublime too. So, I think I would describe my style as you have, except to also possibly add that I think figuratively. I’m sure I have driven people crazy with my constant metaphors and analogies in everyday conversation, but if I want to understand or explain something, my mind almost always reaches for a comparison.

JT: Clearly, there's a lot of cosmic and creation imagery in the collection.  What themes and ideas were you exploring in this respect?

MS: I was exploring a feminine, cyclical conception of god, time, and the universe. Rather than fashioning my poetic god in man’s image, I fashioned her in woman’s image. It was important to me that she be god and not the diminutive or adjunct “goddess.” I wanted to convey her as the origin and the all powerful, but I also wanted her to be present in the whole of everything. So, in I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, most everything is pretty much a microcosm of the divine and the all. That’s why a pancake is creation flattened out. It’s all interconnected, all divine. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast plays with ideas of reincarnation, god birthing the universe, and god attempting to parent the world.  

JT: Would you describe yourself as a political poet? It seemed to me that the poems were sometimes overtly feminist, constructing alternative matrilinear historical narratives and creation myths, which were very powerful.

MS: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Second wave feminism said that the personal is political. I certainly embrace feminism, as anyone who knows me knows. But is the spiritual political too? I guess I resisted it for a while. I didn’t want my spiritual to be political. But it is, and the more overt I allow these connections to become, the richer and more fruitful their unions. As well, the poems I’ve written since I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast was published and since Trump’s election have become more and more overtly political. It’s hard to look at anything the same way anymore when every day feels like a new political emergency. So, all of this is a long way of saying “yes.” I would describe myself as a political poet, and more and more so all the time. Yet I would not categorize myself as a political poet, if that makes sense.

JT: How does your poetry relate, do you think, to the other forms you write in (for example, novel-writing)? Are there major differences, or do you find they overlap? How does teaching help or hinder your work?

MS: I like to think of writing in different forms as cross-training. When I talk to my students about it, we talk about how football players and runners, for instance, sometimes practice ballet and yoga. I live in Texas, so sports analogies go a long way towards aiding student understanding. We talk about how cross-training keeps you flexible, fluid, and fit. There will always be something you learn in one genre that you can carry into another genre. In particular, poetry teaches me to trust the rhythm of my thoughts - to know that I can cultivate what is arising organically instead of trying to impose too artificial a structure on my longer works. Following poems to completion time after time grows trust in the process. Though, I must say, it’s never easy. Teaching helps my work in that it inspires me, but it hinders my creative work in that sometimes I give it far too much of my time and energy.

JT: There are quite a number of ekphrastic poems in the collection, which are inspired by particular pieces of visual art. Why do you think this is? 

MS: Painters like Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington just light up my imagination. They’re like magical beings bringing the dream world to canvas, and when I see what they’ve done with their canvases, I want to do the same thing with the page. I just have to sit down and write. 

JT: What are you working on at the moment?

MS: I’m happily embroiled in poetry at the moment. I do plan to write more fiction in the future, and possibly even a memoir, but I think the next two books will be poetry. I’m working on them simultaneously. One is a book about a girl who is sort of half-myth and half-dream. She has suffered some abuse, and the book is almost an out-of body response to that abuse, though there are other characters and multiple viewpoints. The other book is all the poems I am writing that do not fit into that book. Like with I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, I’m trusting that the organizational path will appear when I put my foot on the ground.

About the interviewer
Jonathan Taylor is an author, lecturer, editor and critic. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007), and the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Review by Beth Gaylard of "Collegiate" by Natalie Beech, Brigitte Adela and Written Foundations Theatre Company

Collegiate is a production by Written Foundations Theatre Company, a partnership of director Brigitte Adela with playwright Natalie Beech.  Original music (by Selim Ben Rabha and Matthew Daly) and lighting were elegantly worked out to complement the drama, without distracting from it. I saw it in the Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester.

Set on a campus in freshers’ week, Collegiate is a story about friendship and pseudo-friendship, as well as sexual politics. At the heart of the play is a rape, which is not accepted as such by any of the characters, not even at times, by Tash (played by Rebecca Tubridy) to whom it happens. The brutality of the assault (not portrayed graphically) is matched by the nastiness of Tash’s and Kev’s friends. Tash’s friends scrutinise her behaviour and withdraw their affection in the aftermath of the assault - while Kev (played by Stephen Love) is the butt of more savvy young men, whose laddism contributes to the events. It’s the laddism that is really under scrutiny here – the play effectively challenges assumptions about sexual consent.
The portrayal of Tash’s situation (and its consequences) avoids the ‘victim’ stereotypes associated with those who’ve suffered a sexual assault, focussing on the personal horror – the uniqueness of the experience and the isolation it brings in its wake, as onlookers decide for themselves who’s at fault. 

All this is conveyed through a fast-moving script and excellent acting. There is humour in the piece, but like the music, it complements the story and never detracts from the serious subject – and both actors convincingly portrayed the dilemmas of Tash and Kev.

This is a piece of work that deserves a wider audience – particularly of the young people it’s aimed at, so I was pleased to hear from Written Foundations hope to stage Collegiate at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Catch it if you can. And incidentally, if you happen to have any links with sixteen plus education, it would be well worth booking a performance workshop for your students, as they think about heading off for university themselves.                                     
About the reviewer
Beth Gaylard is a teacher, writer and MA  student at the University of Leicester. She lives in Leicestershire in a weird modernist house that will one day feature in a bestselling novel or film, hopefully her own.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Review by Robert Richardson of “A Monster Calls” (2016, film, directed by J.A. Bayona)

In what seems those distant days before CGI, Walt Disney introduced to popular cinema, with Song of the South, the combining of live-action and animation, and a signature lightness of touch in doing this was further developed in Mary Poppins. Now, with CGI, it has proliferated, and sometimes applied to more weighty themes. This is the case with A Monster Calls.

Set in contemporary England, a boy, Conor O’Malley, struggles to come to terms with his divorced mother’s cancer, an apparently unsympathetic maternal grandmother, and an ultimately disappointing visit from his father, remarried and living in Los Angeles. He also has to live with the attentions, including physical violence, of a school bully.

The nightmarish CGI sequences are transformations of features Conor can see from his house: a hilltop church with a graveyard and yew tree alongside it. The tree becomes the eponymous monster, voiced in ways both threatening and avuncular by Liam Neeson.

At intervals, the film includes the monster telling Conor three stories, related in an oblique way to his situation. These stories also take the form of animations, but they are in a very different style to those of the main plot. They are more like looser, sketchbook illustrations. In the final sequence, this storybook style makes sense while simultaneously providing mystery (I will avoid the detail of this, since it would be a spoiler). The monster demands of Conor that after the third story he should tell a fourth, working out the underlying truth behind his own terrifying visions.

A Monster Calls has some excellent performances. Lewis MacDougall, as Conor, succeeds in communicating awkwardness and aggression while remaining a character who is essentially likable. Sigourney Weaver gives a focused performance as the controlling grandmother, but with her own stresses and frailties occasionally showing. Toby Kebbell pitches it right as the well intentioned but failing father, and Felicity Jones, as the mother, further establishes herself as one of our finest screen actors, conveying the weakening condition of cancer in a poignant but unsentimental way. There is a brief scene where we see her naked back, and just through Jones’s posture we can believe in the seriousness of her character’s illness.

A Monster Calls has not been a box office hit, possibly because the writer, Patrick Ness (adapting his own book), and director, J.A. Bayona, commendably avoid easy answers, and as an audience we are confronted with both sadness and rage. There is also, though, hope when the difficult relationship between child and grandmother is resolved. It is, for sure, a film worth seeing, and there is a depth of purpose to reflect on, not least the way stories can interpret, and even negotiate through, life’s tragedies.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He has recently exhibited online with the Paris based Corridor Elephant publishing project, and he is a member of the Biennale Austria association of contemporary artists. In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Review by Terry Potter of "Goat Music" by Will Buckingham

This review is also published on The Letter Press Project here.

The stories and myths of the Classical World remain an enduring source of inspiration to contemporary authors who reinterpret, rewrite and recreate both the stories and moral lessons the originals are so rich in. Will Buckingham, novelist, philosopher and university Reader, has added to this body of work with his take on the tale of Marsyas, the Greek satyr who challenged the God Apollo to a music competition.

One of the attractions of revisiting the original sources lies in the way the stories are so open to interpretation - character, motivation and detail can be invented and reinvented time and again without compromising the integrity of the tale. On top of the written versions, the oral tradition can also add a layer of extra interest or complexity to the stories and these versions provide more material to draw on. In crude terms the original stories of Marsyas tell of how he found the double-flute or aulos made by the goddess Athena which she has cast aside in a rage when the other gods made fun of the face she made when she played the instrument. The satyr goes on to claim his musical prowess is greater than that of the great Apollo and challenges this infamously wrathful God to a competition. Marsyas loses and is flayed alive for his presumption.

These tales are often interpreted as a warning against hubris - how could even the most talented mortal being defeat a god? How could he be so deluded? Other commentators have focussed more on the fact that Marsyas is actually defeated by a rather underhand trick that unfairly benefits Apollo and emphasise the great skill and wisdom of the satyr - qualities unusual in their kind. A line of thinking that Buckingham has seized on in his retelling.

The story Buckingham tells us gives Marsyas and the gods he associates with a much more rounded - even modern - set of characteristics and back stories that make the individuals come alive. He's largely sympathetic to the satyr who, although by no means perfect, is ultimately the flawed hero of the book and a victim of a cold, vengeful, chilling Apollo who punishes the mistakes of mortals with no hint of mercy or proportion. Indeed the tale Buckingham tells us is essentially a humanist one - the gods are largely spiteful, arbitrary, self-centred and generally driven by shabby motives and the only sense of mercy or empathy is found in the mortal but chastened Midas - who has learned the hard way that the gods are not to be trusted.

This is indeed a story of incautious hubris but in Buckingham's hands its also a tale of the arbitrariness of power and exercising that power for the pleasure of the cruelty it can inflict. Power exercised in this fashion robs the victim of their identity and their dignity just as Apollo robs Marsyas of his skin.

I read this story at one sitting and that's a tribute to Buckingham's storytelling powers - this rips along at a fair old pace - and it's full of incident and pretty graphic detail. This is, of course, one of the other advantages of using these stories of the Classical world - they are ram packed with sex and violence and Buckingham embraces these elements with glee.

Whatever messages you take way from this reinvention of the Marsyas stories the one thing I can guarantee is that you'll be drawn into a vivid and visceral reading experience that you'll find hard to put down
About the reviewer
Terry Potter is a Senior Lecturer in Working with Children, Young People and Families at Newman University, Birmingham. He is also joint founder of The Letterpress Project, a not for profit initiative that promotes the importance of the printed book.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Review by Jayne Stanton of "Rough Translation" by Cathy Galvin

Reviewer’s disclosure: No prior knowledge of the poet or her work.  A biography on the pamphlet’s back cover, however, lists her credentials as a journalist and a promoter of short fiction (Galvin is founder and director of the Word Factory) as well as a poet.  There’s also praise for a first pamphlet, Black and Blue, a ‘masterclass in poetic risk-taking.’ 

First impressions: Beneath the title on the front cover is a poem – or what appears to be a poem.  From the opening lines, ‘We stake a claim, lay foundations / build and watch it fall’ to the final ‘Our homes are built to go’ there’s a return of wilderness once ‘tamed, contained’ and a leaving of the land by its inhabitants.  Most intriguing of all is:

‘Take away it all
and what is left is who we are.’

What a novel way of grabbing the reader’s attention and inviting further reading between the black end papers of this slim volume.  The Contents page places the title poem midway through the pamphlet but, on exploring further, the reader is re-introduced to the cover-featured lines: they form section 3 of the third poem, ‘Walls.’ 

Rough Translation is the poet’s attempt, over time (these poems were written over a three-year period) to capture, in words, the essence of her people – the Connollys of Mason Island, Connemara – their way of life, and the familial and cultural roots that continue to draw the poet back.  

Throughout these poems, there are strong links between the land and the sea.  In ‘Kate Connolly,’ limpets are fuel for the fire and shells are ‘treasure to be broken,’ the harshness of island life necessitating the gathering of sea bounty.  In ‘On the Tide’, those born on the land leave by the sea.  The poem has a strong, wave-like rhythm; there is tension between land, sea and air, between waiting to go and parting.  And in ‘Cork’, there’s a raft to ‘carry/ his dead weight / across an ocean…or / burn bright / one the one for / the whale-road.’ 

Kate Connelly, the poet’s namesake, has gnarled black hands and a parting kiss of ‘sea, iron…’ yet it is ‘all we don’t understand,’ and ‘all we thought we would never be’ that engenders ‘the eighth sin – / fear.’  She ‘Smell[s] of earth, warm milk from the cow’ too, and, in ‘Naming’, there’s vulnerability as she ‘Stepped in to/ the ocean.   Shed shawl, / shape.  Fed on fish’ while her menfolk bury at sea ‘the cold babies,’ the ‘infants / never named.’  She, and they, are seals that ‘slick the under-swell/ of deep beneath the light,’ reminiscent of the opening poem where child and mother are seals ‘Beneath and above / the swell of birth.’  

In this pronoun-rich collection, Kate Connelly is the only named individual – and the lynch pin, it seems.  In reading back and forth between poems, it seems that all lead back to hers.  Is the subject of the title poem, living in a Midlands tower block where ‘Lifts bring us back / to you’ one of ‘her children,’ ‘freed…to stray beyond’ her ‘folds of wool wrapped round’ or the mother herself?  Is it Kate who is laid to rest ‘in red Coventry clay’ in the poem ‘Coventry Kids’?  The phrase ‘her Connemara moorings’ is telling; it underlines the precarious futures of those who live on islands such as this, taking the reader back to those walls without a roof, those ‘homes…built to go’ (in Walls) and, in Starlings, ‘cottages impossible / to sell; others let to the wealthy.’  

Galvin’s roots run deeper than laid foundations, though, and their pull is evident in many of the poems.  One of the most poignant is Borrowing Soil: the peat top-soil that ‘doesn’t belong,’ is ‘borrowed’ – another impermanence – ‘This earth/ so far from home.’  Home, for the poet, is found in a ‘going back to sources,’ of spoken language:

‘These are the sources that I seek.  Have yer tidied pots?
Have yer sidey’t table? Yes Mummy.  Yes Daddy.  Their voices
deeper than any soil.’

These poems are mysterious and sensual; truth is hard-won – ‘rough’ or inexact rather than invented – and therein lies a magic, of sorts.  Rough Translation is a distillation of lives and their legacy, Galvin’s poems giving voice to those ‘tongues stilled.’  Words are hooks and pins as the reader searches for a way in.  The poems invite and richly reward re-reading.

About the reviewer
Jayne Stanton is a teacher, tutor and folk musician living in Leicestershire.  Her poems have appeared in numerous print and online magazines and anthologies.  She has written commissions for Harborough museum, University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing, and has recently completed a poem sequence about life in Leicester as part of a city residency.  Her pamphlet, Beyond the Tune, is published by Soundswrite Press (2014).  
Jayne blogs at jaynestantonpoetry.wordpress.com and tweets @stantonjayne

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Natalie Beech, interviewed by Sonia Tailor

Natalie Beech is the Associate Playwright for Written Foundations Theatre Company, with her play Collegiate making its debut at The Bread & Roses Theatre last year. Her short plays have won competitions with Sheer Height Theatre Company and Unmasked Theatre Company, going on to be performed at Arcola Theatre, The Hawth Theatre and Story City Festival. She also works with local universities to run workshops and create issue-based drama, with short plays The Island and Currents recently performed at De Montfort University.

ST: How do you explore modern issues through the use of drama?

NB: I think it’s important to examine points of view that are not yours, in order to explore an issue properly. Audiences are intelligent and it’s important that you don’t insult that, or leave them feeling you are biased or haven’t considered something properly. I personally want to use drama because I think live performance and theatre commands people’s attention in a way almost nothing else does right now. If you’re watching a film, reading a book or an article, you can easily be distracted by your phone, social media etc. With drama, there’s a human being in front of you, emotionally responding to the impact of the issue you are exploring. There’s something very intimate and powerful about that.

ST: Why is it important for you to present the perpetrator’s viewpoint in your plays?

NB: I don’t think we really get anywhere in tackling issues if we don’t explore the perpetrator’s point of view, or try to understand why they commit an act or their mentality at that time. Plus - I think it is fascinating to go into the mind of someone who is very different to you, that’s the fun of writing!

ST: What techniques do you use to create strong voices?

NB: I often use the voice of people I have met or know, to help get speech patterns accurate and realistic. I am a firm believer that character is the most important aspect of drama, so making sure you know your characters inside out will mean that they become real people in your head, and write the story themselves.

ST: How do you maintain a balance between exposition and drama?

NB: Exposition can be used interestingly, particularly with monologues. Having your characters decide what they want to tell an audience about themselves and what they want to hide is great on stage, and allows audiences to come to some of their own conclusions about your characters and story. It’s fairly obvious, but I think I would just advise not to show all of your cards at once, slowly reveal things over the course of your story, and that will create drama in itself. 

ST: How do you effectively intertwine dialogue with monologues?

NB: Monologues can be quite hard going for an audience, so it works to break it up with dialogue and vary things a bit. I tend to use monologues when I want the audience to see the drama through the perspective of a character, and dialogue when I want them to see how something is in in reality. This dictates how I intertwine them and why I decide to use dialogue or monologue.

About the interviewer

Sonia Tailor is a political writer, studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. She has organised vigils and demonstrations, and in 2007, she travelled to Jordan to make a documentary about Iraqi refugee children. For many years, Sonia was the Youth Page editor for Peace News (newspaper) and she currently runs a book blog on Instagram: @soniareads.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review by Siobhian R. Hodges of "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

It doesn’t get much darker than a fourteen-year-old girl being raped and murdered, her body forever hidden in a sinkhole while she watches, from heaven, her family struggle to cope. Alice Sebold avoids the mystery of a ‘Whodunit’ plot, revealing the facts at the start to create an intimate story of Susie Salmon’s death and how it affects her family and friends, but with a supernatural slant.

As narrator, Susie talks openly about her killer (neighbour and loner, George Harvey) but is unable to tell her family. They are oblivious that the monster they are searching for is living next door. Although they have occasionally seen and heard Susie when they are missing her the most, ultimately, she is bound to heaven – a place Sebold describes as being a personal world unique to everyone, made up of the individual’s “simplest dreams”. For Susie, it is the high school she never grew old enough to attend with soccer goalposts in the distance, her favourite magazines as textbooks and swing sets with “bucket seats made out of hard black rubber”. There, she meets others with similar dreams whose heavens intertwine with hers, like Holly (who becomes her roommate) and Franny (a woman in her mid-forties who becomes their guide). Sebold paints a clear picture of Susie’s heaven and you cannot help wondering what your own personal one would look like. But as she switches between settings on Earth and in heaven, it becomes evident that the author has a keen eye for detail with world-building.

Even in her own personal heaven though, Susie will never have what she desires most – to grow up. She is a young girl who will never graduate, marry or have children. This is why she is often drawn to Earth, to watch her friends and younger sister (Lindsey) experience these milestones. It is difficult not to feel some of the sadness and frustration Susie feels. Likewise, as she narrates life going on without her, we get to know the people closest to her and sympathise with them as they battle the loss of their daughter/sister/friend/lover and try to cope in a way only a torn family would understand. Susie’s voice is strong and genuine throughout, written how a typical fourteen-year-old speaks – she is full of life, for someone who is dead.

There is a reason Sebold’s The Lovely Bones became an instant success upon its publication in 2002. The story is gritty, heart-warming and cleverly written. Although the author deals with the rawest of emotions, her omnipresent narrator spectating from the afterlife makes for an interesting read. The Lovely Bones is memorable to say the least and Sebold manages to capture the realism of love, grief and moving on.

About the reviewer

Siobhian Hodges is an MA graduate in Creative Writing and a part-time script editor for the Leicestershire-based film company ‘Gatling Gun Productions’. She is currently polishing her first novel and writes short stories and poetry in her free time.

Review by Miranda Taylor of "Matilda" by Roald Dahl

This is now my favourite book. I love Matilda, the main character. She is very cute and also very clever. In the story, she realises she has magical powers. She also loves reading. She is the cleverest person in the school. My favourite chapter is the one where Bruce Bogtrotter eats all the chocolate cake. I love the picture of him afterwards, when he is happy and fat from all the cake, and he has beaten the Trunchbull. I also like the end of the book, because the Trunchbull thinks she is being haunted by the ghost of Miss Honey’s daddy. She gets very scared and runs away. Then Miss Honey lives in her house and adopts Matilda, and they live happily ever after. 

About the reviewer

Miranda Taylor is eight years old. She likes My Little Pony and reading. She has a twin sister called Rosalind. 

Review by Leonie Sturman of "The Heart Goes Last" by Margaret Atwood

There is always a scramble in the bookstores and online when Atwood brings out another of her books; this one was no exception. With Brooker’s Black Mirror haunting anyone watching it on Netflix, The Heart Goes Last would fit right into a chilling episode. 

This is probably not the book to start on if Atwood is new to you – her classics being the likes of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. However, this new book is engaging and frightening in its close-to-the-bone commentary on our current society. So much so, I had to put the book down for a week as I did not want it to end. 

In a state of homelessness, against the backdrop of a country in economic turmoil, protagonists Charmaine and Stan sign up for Consilience – an experiment in society. Even the beginning hooked me. Atwood has the eerie ability to hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing about what matters now in the world. Stan and Charmaine could be anyone. Two wanting-to-work individuals caught out by the lack of jobs and money in their community. 

Consilience feels like a dream, a new slate. For two months, they live in a happy 1950s-esque society filled with stuffy TV shows and happy faces. The next two, they swap it for the prison, where their jobs change. During that time, their ‘Alternates’ live in their shoes in their house and then swap to the prison when Stan and Charmaine come out after two months. Seems perfect? As with a great deal of Atwood…far from it!

Very soon Consilience starts to echo the totalitarian values of Stalin’s Communism or perhaps close to our own modern society of cameras and CCTV.

Soon, you have fallen down the Atwood rabbit hole full of Elvis and Marilyn sex robots, mass surveillance, patriarchy, sexuality and exploitation of identity. And look out for that blue teddy bear! There is always something hypnotic about Atwood’s prose and the way she weaves her themes throughout until they burst out of the pages, along with the chilling realisation that this is not so far from the world we live today. 

About the reviewer

Leonie Sturman is an English teacher specialising in teaching A-Level Creative Writing, and a part-time writer. She sometimes delves into performing her work in the sleepy county of Suffolk, often exploring the darker aspects of femininity and society ills.