Essential Margaret Atwood reading as she launches an online creative writing course

13th Jul 18 | Lifestyle

From The Edible Woman to Oryx and Crake, these are the novels you need to be getting stuck into.


With 16 novels under her belt – not to mention numerous works of short fiction, poetry and children’s books – Margaret Atwood is one of the world’s most established living authors.

Now, she’s passing on her wisdom with an upcoming online creative writing course. Atwood isn’t the first famous writer to teach with Masterclass, joining the likes of James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell.

During the course of over 20 lessons, you can learn the craft of creative writing from one of the most talented authors out there. Pre-enrolment is open now, with one class costing £85 and an all-access pass to the website costing £170.

But what if you’ve only seen a few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, and don’t actually know much about Atwood’s writing as a whole? She is unusual as an author because she’s written across almost every genre you can think of – everything from science fiction to historical re-imaginings.

With this in mind, these are the key Atwood novels you should take a look at if you’re considering signing up for her course.

The Edible Woman, 1969

This was Atwood’s first full novel, published when she was 30 and setting a feminist agenda that courses throughout much of her writing.

Set in 1960s Toronto, The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian – a young woman going through the motions of life with a steady job and a suitable boyfriend. As the novel progresses, Marian becomes increasingly disassociated from her own body and world, and finds herself unable to eat and totally dissatisfied by her life.

It centres around the rigidity of gender roles and how shocking it can be when someone breaks out of them, as well as the alienation Marian feels when she turns her back on her own femininity.

Some of the symbolism can feel quite obvious, but for a first novel it is still a fascinating and gripping exploration of what it means to be a woman.

The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985

There’s no way you can have a list of Atwood’s most important works without including The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s famous for a reason. The current second season of the TV show adaptation has completely broken away from the narrative of the original story, but it’s definitely worth going back to the source.

This dystopian novel is a complete departure from The Edible Woman. Set in a totalitarian state that has taken over the US government, it centres around the handmaid Offred. She is enslaved to a powerful family because she is one of the few women who is still fertile, and is made to have sex with her master in the hopes of procreation and the continuation of the human race.

It explores women’s rights and what happens when they’re taken away. Even though it was written in the Eighties, these are topics that still seem to resonate now, and the show was an immediate success when it debuted in 2017.

Cat’s Eye, 1988

This is the most closely autobiographical of Atwood’s novels. Middle-aged artist Elaine is back in Toronto for a retrospective show, and is forced to confront her childhood there.

It’s quite a visceral reimagining of the bullying Elaine endured as a child, which has evidently shaped her and followed her into adulthood. In particular, the story focuses on her relationship with Cordelia – chief bully when she was younger, but later in life they establish a precarious friendship.

Written mostly in flashbacks, it’s a poignant exploration of how events in your childhood can mould your personalty in later life.

The Blind Assassin, 2000

This is one of Atwood’s most decorated books, having been awarded the Man Booker Prize in the year it was published.

Like Cat’s Eye, it is told largely in flashbacks – from the perspective of old woman Iris Chase, looking back on her childhood, relationship with her sister Laura and unfortunate marriage to Richard.

This is a novel of many layers – it also includes one of Laura’s stories that Iris has published, about the radical author Alex Thomas and his relationship with the sisters. Not only this, but the third story within this is a science-fiction tale about the eponymous Blind Assassin.

Even though it sounds complicated, Atwood crafts the novel so deftly that it’s entirely absorbing.

Oryx and Crake, 2003

This is the first of a speculative fiction trilogy called MaddAddam. Set in a post-apocalyptic future after mankind has been blighted by the plague, it follows Snowman – who used to be known as Jimmy and could very well be the last man on earth.

He mourns his best friend Crake, and the woman Oryx they both loved. Snowman goes on a journey across the country in search of life, interspersed with flashbacks of what the world was like before.

Even though it seems like science fiction, it’s not an entirely unreasonable plot – the world’s downfall essentially came from greedy corporations and genetic engineering getting out of hand.

© Press Association 2018