Book: Murder in the Dark

Margaret Atwood has a way with words.


Whether to speak or not: the question that comes up again when you think you’ve said too much, again. Another clutch of nouns, a fistful: look how they pick them over, the shoppers for words, pinching here and there to see if they’re bruised yet. Verbs are no better, they wind them up, and let them go, scrabbling over the table, wind them up again too tight and the spring breaks. You can’t take another poem of spring, not with the wound-up vowels, not with the bruised word green in it, not yours, not with ants crawling all over it, not this infestation. It’s a market, flyspecked; how do you wash a language? There’s the beginning of a bad smell, you can hear the growls, something’s being eaten, once too often. Your mouth feels rotted.

Why involve yourself? You’d do better to sit off to the side, on the sidewalk under the awning, hands over your mouth, your ears, your eyes, with a cup in front of you into which people will or will not drop pennies. They think you can’t talk, they’re sorry for you but. But you’re waiting for the word, the one that will finally be right. A compound word, the generation of life, mud and light.

This collection of short stories and prose poems is best enjoyed during afternoon tea. Atwood has a gift for using the right words and stringing them to form magical sentences. Each story is short but leaves an impression. If I could, I would reproduce the entire book here. Everyone should give her stories a try, some will lift your spirits,

But we were terrified. It was the look on her face, pure hatred, real after all. The undead walked among us. 

some will chill you to the bone,

What’s the difference between vision and a vision? The former relates to something it’s assumed you’ve seen, the latter to something it’s assumed you haven’t. Language is not always dependable either.

while others will make you marvel at her skill.

She dispense advice to aspiring writers,

So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favour the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.

That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.

Now try How and Why.

she takes pot-shots at age-old tropes,

There was once two sisters. One was rich and had no children, the other had five children and was a widow, so poor that she no longer had any food left. She went to her sister and asked her for a mouthful of bread. ‘My children are dying,’ she said. The rich sister said, ‘I do not have enough for myself,’ and drove her away from the door. Then the husband of the rich sister came home and wanted to cut himself a piece of bread; but when he made the first cut, out flowed red blood.

Everyone knew what that mean.

This is a traditional German fairy-tale.

she even explores feminism in novels.

Men’s novels are about men. Women’s novels are about men too but from a different point of view.

There’s a huge variety contained in this short collection. Each so easy to read. There’s a lightheartedness about these stories, even those with darker situations or themes. They are stories told to be understood and enjoyed. They transport one to different periods in life and they encompass a variety of styles.

Murder in the Dark

Atwood has been lauded for her short fiction and from this collection, I can definitely see why. I highly recommend this book, it will only take an hour or two, but it is well worth that short time.


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