Bitter Sweeties

The new Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last, is just excellent. Beautiful, elegant and spare writing of course, with a lively undertow of curiosity about, and surprise at, humanity. It was enjoyable and gripping but also disquieting and eerily like a warning from an author very interested in the technologies and societies of the future. It is the tale of a couple who decide they can no longer survive the economic wasteland and societal collapse that surrounds them, and so they sign up to the clever new world of Consilience, a town that services a prison. The first month they’ll live and work in the town. The next month they’ll become prisoners and their prisoner counterparts will take up their lives and work and they’ll swap turn and turn about, month in, month out…thus all having employment and food and ‘civilisation’. But such a highly structured system requires strict rules and blind obedience to those rules, which as we all know, isn’t really in strong trait in  human nature, so people and system are heading for a clash. It is in no way related to her earlier, very famous dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale but this new-born, stumbling, rule-bound, increasingly prohibitive society feels like the beginning of what might, many years distant, become the world of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Rosalie Ham published Australian-gothic, bitter-sweet The Dressmaker in 2000 and it has just been re-published, as the movie starring Kate Winslet is about to be released. I am so pleased as it is one that I like to recommend to particularly deserving and favoured customers and haven’t been able to for several years. It is a treacle-dark story about a woman, trained in Paris as a couturier seamstress, who returns to the small, dusty Australian town of her childhood, and makes sublimely beautiful clothes for the crocodile-smiling, gossipy and malevolent townsfolk. Her revenge is magnificent but slightly disturbing, the writing is fantastic and has the exquisite sharpness of a dash of lemon in a fresh papercut – that made you wince, didn’t it?

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