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Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Nov 2003

What is the role of the writer? Prophet? High Priest of Art? Court Jester? Or witness to the real world? Looking back on her own childhood and the development of her writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors which writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain - or excuse! - their activities, looking at what costumes they have seen fit to assume, what roles they have chosen to play. In her final chapter she takes up the challenge of the book's title: if a writer is to be seen as 'gifted', who is doing the giving and what are the terms of the gift?

Margaret Atwood's wide and eclectic reference to other writers, living and dead, is balanced by anecdotes from her own experiences as a writer, both in Canada and on the international scene. The lightness of her touch is underlined by a seriousness about the purpose and the pleasures of writing, and by a deep familiarity with the myths and traditions of western literature.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (4 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844080277
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844080274
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays.

In addition to the classic The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize and Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, was published in 2009. She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature in 2008.

Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto, Canada.

(Photo credit: George Whitside)

Product Description


Juggling well worn subjects which "get murky or pretentious", this is a streetwise, erudite suggestive enquiry into problems and myths of the writer's role. Her light touch on hard thoughts, her humour and eclectic quotations, lend enchantment to an argument that has as many undulating tentacles as a well developed sea anemone. (THE INDEPENDENT)

Her witty, occasionally self-depracating and always ingenious approach is a delight (Culture, SUNDAY TIMES)

A witty and profound rumination about writing (THE TIMES)

A playful, informed and briskly sensible discussion of the writing life. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Book Description

A fascinating collection of six essays, written for the William Empson Lectures in Oxford, each exploring an aspect of writerly contemplation.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When We Pretend that We're Dead 21 May 2008
What makes someone a writer? What's the role of the writer in the world today? Should she write just for Art's sake or does she have a social responsibility? Is there a third way? And is there an underlying (and universal) psychological reason behind every writer's desire to put words to paper? Margaret Atwood answers all these questions, and more, in six essays which were originally lectures given at Cambridge University.

The great thing about Atwood is that she doesn't place herself, or anyone else, on a pedestal. Her tone is warm, familiar, self-deprecating and very witty. She weaves quotes and poems into her explanations which give you a better understanding of those original works and even make you wish to go out and buy some of them (I've added Carol Shield's "Mary Swann" to my wish list.) This is the second time I read this book and I feel that I've gained new insight into what happens inside my head when I write. If you are a writer, this book is a must
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
This book was like finding treasure. My own copy is dogeared and underlined; how many times have I read her passage about Brown Owl, the original reader of her young career, as a reminder that it is knowing exactly who your own ideal reader is and none other that directs the inner voice successfully onto the page? I've read many times her examination of the process of digging into the subconscious, the transition where the writer is no longer herself, but someone permitting herself to plunder, commit larceny, explore the truth all around. She reminds us of Keats' advice to ensure our books have the "negative capability" for the reader to enter, she explores the strange duality of the writer, (wherein no reader ever meets on the page the terrestrial who walks the dog or eats bran for regularity, but instead encounters a shadowy personage who occupies the same body but "commits" the writing.) She is brutally honest about the purloining, cannibalizing, reclamation and social responsibilities all encountered by any writer tackling her story with serious intent, although Atwood is hardly to be held responsible when some of us falter. And it helps that this book started as a series of lectures sponsored by the Cambridge University Press, which means that Atwood is not only engaging, but also entertaining. The asides and humorous quips alone are worth the read. She generously quotes from many authors of all genres, Elmore Leonard to Borges to Voltaire, and reminds us, citing Alice Munro's story, "Who Do You Think You Are? Read more ›
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The amount of drivel written on writing has to be experienced to be believed. It is significant that many of the authors of this tripe are not to be found on any best seller list. They're hacks. Their words are tired. Their advice inane. Why any publisher produces their unhelpful prose is a mystery this writer cannot understand. What joy then to read Margaret Atwood's book. It will not give you 36 points on how to become a best selling novelist/poet/non-fiction writer/grafitti artist. It may not help you to write a single line at all. What it will display is great writing, sly wit, it will open a little, the door into the lives of writers and writing. It should inspire you. It should encourage you. It will definitely cause the occasional chuckle, among my favourites: "Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate." And, "all writers are double, for the simple reason you cannot meet the author of the book you just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person." It's worth being a different person. Read this book.
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39 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 15 Nov 2003
Worth reading for recreation or for research, this book makes literary criticism fun! Negotiating With The Dead is of interest to anyone who has ever wondered what it really means to be a writer, and its a page turner. Educational and interesting, what more could you ask for?!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great 20 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Margaret Attwood will always be five stars. I found this informative, interesting & enlightening. It's beside my bed and I keep dippig i at random when I need some inspiration.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking 29 Dec 2011
By Calypso
Based on a lecture series given by Margaret Attwood, this book tackles the philosophical questions of why write? does a writer have to suffer for his or her art? who is the reader? where does writing come from? Margaret Attwood has an astonishing knowledge of her subject and an all-encompassing source of quotations ranging from Gilgamesh to Flaubert. Her background as a poet is also much in evidence with some very thought-provoking examples that illustrate the debates she analyses.

The book's weaknesses are in its strengths. The debating style leads to weak conclusions and rather protracted analysis which makes parts of the book dry. I wasn't surprised to find the Brown Owl example quoted in other reviews as this is one of the relatively few personal experiences that provide a depth of feeling and inspiration, the book could have done with more of these. Nevertheless, well worth the read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Flowery, pretentious, doesn't fufill its promises
What is the role of a the writer? Prophet? High Priest of art? Court Jester? Don't expect to find out here! Read more
Published 6 months ago by Paul Teevan
4.0 out of 5 stars good read
she is at her usual best..... it is a fun book where margaret relates her life experiences to writing cleverly
Published 12 months ago by mello
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite up there with the title
Enjoy Margaret Atwood and just starting out on life writing myself so jumped at the title, but only one chapter focuses on this - the last. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jill Brooks
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I didn't expect a How to Manual but Ms Atwood seems to be peversely determined not to share any tips at all about writing with her public. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Traveller
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to what I expected.
I'm afraid my high hopes of Atwood have come rather crashing down. I should have known better I suppose as my son warned me (two English teachers in the same house, eh?). Read more
Published on 19 Jun 2011 by Scampo
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books
This is one of the worst books I've read. I struggled from beginning until page 149 and gave up because I could remember none of it. Read more
Published on 25 Jan 2008 by Pauline Butcher Bird
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical insights from a master novelist
If you love Margaret Atwood's novels then please buy this book. It has the same qualities you will have treasured before - every paragraph has a shaft of humour, an original... Read more
Published on 14 April 2007 by Baggy
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