on 16 February 2006
This collection forms a convenient middle ground between Atwood’s novels and her poetry. The assortment comprises very short fictions and (to quote the book jacket) ‘prose poems’ which I think best sums up much of the work.
Atwood takes little snippets of experience, objects, gestures or memories and muses on or explores their possible meaning and potential. There are four sections in total being loosely arranged according to theme; for example, the first section is more overtly autobiographical (‘Horror Comics’, ‘Making Poison’, ‘Boyfriends’), the second is a stand alone tale ‘Raw Materials’, while the third part deals with commentary on a more general basis (‘Women’s Novels’, ‘Bread’, ‘The Page’). The final section focuses on more abstract concepts (‘Iconography’, ‘Hopeless’, ‘Everlasting’). Naturally there is some overlap, but this seemed to me the most suitable way to categorise the divisions.
The tales range from amusing, to poignant to socially satirical. Atwood’s prose is superbly subtle and deceptively undemanding. The works are deceivingly short, as Atwood’s skill in creating a whole world and back-story to these fragments is ultimately successful. It is difficult to give some indication of the plot of these tales as they are so numerous and varied, but what I can say is that despite their length, they are potent fragments of narrative, diverse and insightful.
If you enjoy all things Atwood, I doubt you will be disappointed and if you are not that familiar with her work then I don’t see why this wouldn’t encourage you to be!
_Murder in the Dark_ is a moving collection, well crafted and exquisitely conceived.
on 3 September 2010
Rather than being a collection of short stories `Murder in the Dark' is really a collection of very short fictions, of just two or three pages in some cases. Oh apart from part two which is a full on short story in the form of `Raw Materials'. Yes, I mentioned part two because the book is 27 pieces split between four parts. The first part seems to be autobiographical snippets, second part is a short story, the third and fourth parts are further random selections of small pieces. I did try and see if each of the last parts had any themes but I couldn't personally pick any out they were just fantastic shorts. Speaking of which enough of how the collection is put together and onto what it actually contains.
Atwood being Atwood every novel she writes is completely different in prose, genre and motivation and so with a collection like this you get a whole host of varying themes. Those of you who know her for her feminist views will enjoy shorts such as `She', `Liking Men', `Simmering', `Iconography' and `Women's Novels'. The latter of which I think quite a few publishers themselves could learn from. If you like her subtle and sometime wry humour then `Fainting' will probably make you laugh as much as I did.
In fact `Fainting' came from my all together favourite section which was her more autobiographical jottings. I love `Autobiography' which describes a first memory and the humour of memories of a younger (we assume) Atwood in the darkly comic tales of teenage pranks in `Horror Comics' and `Making Poison'. Though they are written by Atwood in recent years they seem to show the younger Atwood you know was brimming with ideas that would form her later works.
There is further darkness in the slightly chilling `Murder in the Dark' from which this collection gets its name with a brilliant last paragraph that if I told you would ruin it so I shall not. There were two particular stand out shorts for me though. `Bread' will both move you and almost give you a wake up call which will leave you looking at your loaves quite differently from now on. There is also the remarkable `Happy Endings' which takes us down the many routes a relationship can go and does it with a big slice of emotion.
A superb bite size collection of works, it's a bit like a box of chocolates which you start of with just having one... and then they are all devoured and gone.