Book Review for “Old Babes in the Wood” Stories by Margaret Atwood.
Summary: “The two intrepid sisters of the title story grapple with loss and memory on a perfect summer evening; “Impatient Griselda” explores alienation and miscommunication with a fresh twist on a folkloric classic; and “My Evil Mother” touches on the fantastical, examining a mother-daughter relationship in which the mother purports to be a witch. At the heart of the collection are seven extraordinary stories that follow a married couple across the decades, the moments big and small that make up a long life of uncommon love–and what comes after.“
Age: Adult; Genres: Fiction – Literary & Genre; Settings: Era/s: Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic; Location/s: Mostly places in Canada; Other Categories: Short Story Collection, Folklore, Speculative, Science Fiction, Relationships, Family Saga, Humor, Satire, Women, Novella.
As you can see from the number of other categories here, this book really has something for everyone. In fact, there’s even a touch of fantasy/magical realism here, but nothing that overwhelms those who don’t care for that genre. You see, when Atwood writes short stories, she really does know how to let her imagination run wild. However, even so, she always has an eye for the human condition, even if it is only observed by some extra-terrestrial being! Yes, there’s a story with an alien life-form here, and it is quite funny. In this story, this being has been sent to a room to entertain a bunch of earthlings who are being quarantined because of some disease they’re susceptible to, but which doesn’t seem to bother the alien! Despite it being technically Sci-Fi, I still enjoyed it, which is saying quite a lot. Mind you, I also didn’t totally get the story “Impatient Griselda” so these are the main reasons why I’m not giving this collection an unequivocal 5/5 stars.
I should mention that I already read and reviewed one of the stories in this collection. That being “My Evil Mother” which I bought when it was on special via Amazon (I had a voucher, so…). As I noted in that review, the touches of magic here weren’t overt, and were more like an explanation of some unusual behavior, together with a means to an end for a mother trying to keep her daughter in line, while also trying to keep her safe. It also reminds us that no matter how much we say we’re nothing like our parents, we end up mimicking them despite our efforts to never do so to our own children. I totally loved this story, mostly because I believed that all the “witchcraft” here (and there wasn’t all that much, to be truthful) was just a ruse.
Now, this is a collection of short stories, but some of them are connected, which – on their own – essentially become a novella. I’m talking about the series of stories about Nell and Tig, who are the married couple noted in the blurb above. Personally, while I liked most of the stories, I could have been more than satisfied to get just these connected one as a stand-alone novella. In them, Atwood chronicles this fascinating couple through several decades, and even goes into Tig’s father’s story of his time as a soldier during the Great War. However, even these aren’t totally straight forward. In a few of these stories Nell is with other people, like her sister (the titular one), and some of her close friends who meet regarding some political activism (not detailed). Some of these stories had me smiling and even laughing. But as they went on, I realized that a couple of the later ones got me choked up. You see, after Tig dies, Nell has to figure out how to carry on without him. As a widow myself, I felt that Atwood understood that level of grief, and was able to express it in ways I’m not always able to do myself. For this, I must thank Atwood for putting words to feelings I’ve felt, in such a tender and caring manner. I won’t say more, because I might cry.
All this is to say that I can truly recommend this collection, even if you aren’t an “old babe” like I am. Once again, Atwood has shown us why she’s considered to be one of the greatest living writers, and why her appeal is as widespread as her creative mind is eclectic. Mind you, because of my few niggles above, I’m going to give it 4.75 stars out of five, but that’s only because of my personal taste and my lack of knowledge of folklore that confused me in that one story. What more can I say? It is a collection of Atwood stories that don’t disappoint, and that should be enough!
Doubleday – Penguin Random House released “Old Babes in the Wood” Stories by Margaret Atwood on March 7, 2023. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#8), Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#6).
3 thoughts on “New Stories about Old People.”
Nice! I like when the stories are connected
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I don’t tend to read short stories, but you may have convinced me to give this one a try! I’ve already read My Evil Mother, but given how much I liked it (and how much I like Atwood in general), I think I need this book in my life.
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I’m really looking forward to this book! I’m not yet an “old babe”, but heading towards that status. I feel for you–nice but difficult when an author is able to put words to your feelings.
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