BOOK REVIEW: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (Review by Caroline Baum)

Canada’s literathe-heart-goes-lastry grande dame, Margaret Atwood, is the high priestess of dystopia. As its ruling authority, she invents plots that are devilish in their scary plausibility and disturbingly accurate in their critique of where today’s extremes will lead to if we are not hyper vigilant.

But she is a hugely entertaining and playful Cassandra, peppering her visions of future doom with witheringly sharp satirical dialogue and observation, making the experience of reading this slim but meaty novel doubly uneasy. One minute you are laughing at the pathetic naivety of Charmaine and Stan, a couple seduced into living in Consilience, a gated community to protect themselves from a ravaged society. The next you are wondering what moral decisions you would make under the circumstances they are faced with on the inside.

The scenario she devises to alert us to future danger hinges on the choice between freedom and security, between desires genuinely or artificially gratified. Yes, there is sex with robots.

Get your copy The Heart Goes Last here

The Heart Goes Last

by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

Charmaine and Stan are young and in love. Victims of a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, they struggle to keep their relationship alive in the face of increasing poverty. Now living in their car, they survive on tips from Charmaine’s job at filthy dive bar, until the day they see an advertisement for a social experiment offering security, community, and a break from the daily grind of their current existence…

Leaving behind the uncertainty of their former lives, they sign themselves up for the perfectly manicured lawns of Consilience, with its stable jobs and protection from the increasingly unruly and angry population outside its walls. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – with a voluntary imprisonment. But what seems at first to be a balancing act worth investing in for the safety of a permanent roof over their heads, soon turns into a nightmare of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire…

Brilliantly conceived and executed, with a pace that will leave you breathless, The Heart Goes Last is a powerful satire of life in the twenty-first century, charged throughout with Margaret Atwood’s signature devastating wit, irony and keen perception.

Get your copy The Heart Goes Last here

About the Author

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto the-handmaid-s-taleand her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006.

Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009.

Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Visit Margaret Atwood’s Booktopia Author Page

Claire Corbett, author of When We Have Wings, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Claire Corbett

author of When We Have Wings

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Vancouver and spent my early life by the sea. The most joyful part of my childhood was hiking and camping in the Rocky Mountains, watching red-tailed hawks and golden eagles fly.

My family moved to Australia when I was nine. I was the kid in class with the funny accent; I was teased but not in a nasty way. My last years in high school were at the Australian International Independent School, which was laid-back and had some interesting teachers. It doesn’t exist any more. The principal was passionate Continue reading

Bernie McGill, author of The Butterfly Cabinet, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Bernie McGill

author of The Butterfly Cabinet

Ten Terrifying Questions


 1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in the parish of Lavey in County Derry, Northern Ireland, the youngest of ten children. I went to Primary School there, Secondary in the nearby town of Maghera and to Queen’s University in Belfast to study English and Italian. As part of my studies, I spent a year working in a school in Italy from 1987-88. When I’d finished my undergraduate studies, I completed an Continue reading

S. J. Watson, author of Before I Go To Sleep, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

S. J. Watson

author of Before I Go To Sleep

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in a part of England called The Black Country, so called because of pollution from the coal mining, steel mills and iron foundries that choked the area in the nineteenth century. There was still a lot of heavy industry in the area when I was growing up there, and even though that’s all but disappeared now the area still has a very distinctive feel to it. Growing up there, miles from the coast, has left me with a love of the sea. I only saw it once or twice a year, and even now I live in London the coast feels like a magical, special place.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

By the time I was twelve I’d given up on my early ambition to be a bin man and decided I wanted to be a writer. When I was eighteen I wanted to be the guitarist and lead singer in a terribly serious guitar band but I contented myself with writing streams of lyrics and pretending I was Morrissey. By thirty I’d swung back round to wanting to be a writer. My career as a Clinical Scientist was becoming more established, but still I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was starting to realise that writing would never just be a hobby for me, or a pastime, but something I needed to do in order to be happy.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That security is the most important thing in the world. I used to be very frightened of taking risks. I was always thinking of the future, rather than the present. Now I know that safety isn’t everything, that there’s a value in risk and that doing something that feels right is more important than doing something that makes sense.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has had the most obvious, direct influence on me, so I’d choose that first. I read it when I was in my late twenties, and it was so perfect that as soon as I’d turned the last page I said to myself, ‘I always wanted to write novels. So why am I not writing?’ I guess it was the book that reconnected me with my childhood ambition.

Second, I absolutely love the photographs of Nan Goldin. It’s hard to choose one, because for me they have a sort of cumulative effect, but her book The Devil’s Playground is one I go back to again and again. I love the intimacy of her work, and the way it manages to be both brutal and beautiful.

Third, I’d have to say the TV series Six Feet Under. I think TV is a very underrated medium, and this series in particular is a work of art. I watched all five seasons over a few weeks a couple of years ago and it’s just a staggering achievement. It’s so moving and profound, and the characters are wonderful. I’d love to one day write something as powerful.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’m in love with language. I love the way that in a novel the writer allows the reader to cast the characters and dress the scene and choose the props. I love the fact that no two readers will see the characters in exactly the same way, and that everyone will bring their own perspective to the book. Reading a book is a collaborative process. Also, I wanted to express my creativity and couldn’t really do anything else! (BBGuru: Great answer!)

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s called Before I Go to Sleep and is about a woman who has no memory. She wakes every day with no knowledge of who she is or how she came to be in this strange place she doesn’t recognize, and the book tells the story of how she begins to piece her life together and learn the truth, which isn’t what she might have expected.

It has its origins in an obituary I read about a man called Henry Gustav Molaison. He had died in 2008 but, since undergoing surgery for epilepsy in 1953, had been unable to form new memories and so lived constantly in the past. I wondered how it must feel to wake up every day thinking it was 1953, and was struck immediately by a mental image of a woman looking in a bathroom mirror in a strange house to find that, instead of a teenager reflected there, she had become a middle-aged woman, and the house was her home. So while the novel isn’t about Molaison, it was inspired by his condition.

Order you copy of  Before I Go to Sleep

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

It’s a thriller, and there are a few surprises along the way, so I hope people finish the book with a feeling that they’ve been on an exciting journey. But I also wanted to ask some questions about identity, about what makes us who we are, and also about ageing and the nature of love, so my hope is that people will be thinking about those kind of issues, too.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

It changes daily. Right now I’m loving reading J M Coetzee, but last week I’d have probably chosen DBC Pierre and the week before that Kristin Hersh, whose memoir Rat Girl is brilliant. The one writer I keep going back to is Margaret Atwood though, so if you’re forcing me to choose I’ll say her.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Just to keep writing, really, and to keep exploring new territory. I want to stretch myself with every book, and to keep people guessing with what I’ll come up with next!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

It’s a terrible cliché, but there’s no getting away from it. The only way to write is by sitting down and doing it. There’s no magic formula, there’s no fairy godmother who’ll create your manuscript while you sit around having clever thoughts. So I’d say write, every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Writing’s a job. It’s a fantastic job, but it’s still a job.

Mr Watson, thank you for playing.

Rebecca Lim, author of Mercy, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rebecca Lim,

author of Mercy,

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Singapore but raised and schooled in marvellous Melbourne, Australia. I speak a kind of terrible, pidgin Mandarin Chinese around my relatives, but I think and dream in English.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, I wanted to be a picture book writer and would hand deliver wonkily-drawn picture book manuscripts to the Melbourne offices of imprints that have slowly disappeared from Australia over the years (remember Methuen, anybody?).

At eighteen, all I knew was that I didn’t want to study Medicine (partly because everyone thought that would be an excellent career choice) but I did want a job that revolved around ideas, words and writing. So I picked Continue reading

Tara Moss, author of Siren and The Blood Countess, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

author of the thrilling Mak Vanderwall Novels:

Ten Terrifying Questions

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Booktopia, you need to know straight up, I was raised on a diet of Stephen King, Edward Gorey and Patricia Cornwell. (Oh, and Monty Python.) Hence, nothing terrifies me. (BBGuru: Fight or Flight? NB. Ms Moss ticks Fight)

I was born in Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island in Canada. I left for Europe when I was 15, and was then vigorously schooled by Continue reading

The Lost Man Booker Prize : Shirley Hazzard, Mary Renault, H.E.Bates, Melvyn Bragg

A quick look at the list of Man Booker Prize Winners is enough to convince anyone that it is the premier literary award.

Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, William Golding, Arundhati Roy to name but a few winners…

And yet we can always come up with the names of authors who are not listed and we believe should be.

Well, recently the Man Booker has made a startling admission – they missed a year.

Our favourite author may still have a chance to win!

Here’s what they had to say:

‘In 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became, as it is today, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. At the same time, the date on which the award was given moved from April to November. As a result of these changes, there was whole year’s gap when a wealth of fiction, published in 1970, fell through the net. These books were simply never considered for the prize.’

They go on to offer us a long-list of eligible titles:

Quite a list, really. Many great names, but some which would not, I think, be included on a proper list today.

Shall we put on our cynic’s spectacles? Let’s!

We can begin shortening the list by removing those who may be considered too successful (ie: popular) for the Booker judges – Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill, Len Deighton and Patrick O’Brian… Easily done.

Now we may look again… Oh no, there are a few names which won’t be instantly recognisable to contemporary intellectuals (ie: 15 year old TV journalists). They must go. Bye, Bye, Nina Bawden, H.E. Bates, Christy Brown, Elaine Feinstein, Brian Aldiss, Francis King, Margaret Laurence, Shiva Naipaul and Mary Renault.

Oh, and some have already won the Man Booker or other prestigious awards – that will not do… Ciao, Patrick White, J.G.Farrell, Muriel Spark and Iris Murdoch (dead people never come to award ceremonies anyway).

We can omit Melvyn Bragg because, well… you know… he’s been on the telly. Susan Hill can be eliminated, she isn’t consistently literary. And Joe Orton would be too obvious.

We are left with Shirley Hazzard and David Lodge. What a final!

In conclusion, having thought long and hard, I think Patrick O’Brian should get it.


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