Book Review: Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories
Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood
Published by Vintage
A man finds himself surrounded by women who are becoming paler, more silent and literally smaller; a woman’s intimate life is strangely dominated by the fear of nuclear warfare; a melancholy teenage love is swept away by a hurricane, while a tired, middle-aged affection is rekindled by the spectacle of rare Jamaican birds…
In these exceptional short stories, by turns funny and searingly honest, Margaret Atwood captures brilliantly the complex forces that govern our relationships, and the powerful emotions that guide them.
I’m having a Margaret Atwood moment, and I’m not even sorry. Atwood excels at the short story, and this classic collection is a perfect example. Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories is a collection that rounds up what Atwood does best – characters. These are wistful, complex and fascinating characters. The art of a good short story is one that allows you a glimpse in to a life, and makes you feel like life went on before you peeked in, and will continue afterwards. These characters are built to do exactly that.
My favourite short story is Scarlet Ibis, which features a timid wife on holiday with her husband and daughter as they go to view the rare scarlet ibis bird. It’s beautifully balanced between the unsaid and the said. But all the stories have their own strengths – from the humorous to the heartbreaking. The characters aren’t always likeable, but they are always relatable.
Short stories are not to everyone’s taste, and Atwood’s longer novels are probably some of my favourites, but whenever I need the comfort of short, snapshot stories, I always turn to Atwood or Hemingway. There’s a huge reassurance in finding short story collections that you feel familiar with. It’s like a warm bath – indulgent and soothing.
These stories are sophisticated and poetic, savage and multifaceted, they are witty and vicious – a smart commentary on culture and the war between the sexes. Each woman is battling shortcomings, hopes and dreams, and yet it is always in the context of how they contend with men (as it always seems to be), but Atwood lampoons these behaviours – holds the up to the light to prove how ridiculous they can be. There is nothing cruel in her writing, unless it’s for effect, and there is always a moment of brightness and hope. It’s the perfect antidote to reality.