Reviews||

Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

16th Oct 2014

★★★★
Stone Mattress
"I don’t endorse the behaviour of any of my characters," declared Margaret Atwood before she read, for the first time in public, an extract from her latest release, 'Stone Mattress'...

Stone Mattress is a collection of nine short tales containing, as Atwood’s opening words hint, a delicious myriad of flawed characters.

From the fantasy land of Alphinland to the harsh landscape of the Arctic, Atwood’s engrossing prose leads her readers through a variety of dark scenarios. Flawed writers take centre stage in a number of these tales; as a reader it’s impossible not to ponder on the possible real-life inspirations for such characters!

Atwood’s collection launches in true style with a trio of linked tales; Alphinland, Revenant and Dark Lady. Authors Gavin and Constance are approaching the end of their separate lives. In an intriguing theme that reoccurs throughout Stone Mattress, events force the characters to look back at their histories.

Atwood deftly interlinks the selfish and morose Gavin Putman, who cruelly teases a young scholar eager to weave obscure lines of conjecture in to his work, with Constance. Constance is an author whose calm and frail exterior belie her ability to ensconce unfaithful lovers, along with their wilful accomplices, in to her fantasy fiction world of Alphinland.

These opening tales proudly announce key themes for the Stone Mattress. There’s a strong focus on previous relationships in this collection. With revenge rearing its head too, Atwood’s tales make for compelling reading.These opening tales proudly announce key themes for the Stone Mattress. There’s a strong focus on previous relationships in this collection. With revenge rearing its head too, Atwood’s tales make for compelling reading.

This deliciously wicked thread continues in The Dead Hand Loves, where a disgruntled student takes the frustration he has for his housemates and pours it in to a horror story. Jack’s exorcism of his feelings provides him with instant gratification, however this is a story that still haunts him many, many years later. The Dead Hand Loves effectively illustrates Atwood’s ability to take her reader on a most unpredictable journey in a controlled and intelligent manner.

A leaning towards the macabre continues in The Freeze-Dried Groom, a tale with an unexpected twist narrated by the cynical antique dealer Sam. When Sam unlocks the door to yet another discarded unit won at auction, his discovery unlocks a hidden part of his character, leading him down a very different path. Atwood’s ability to convey the mood and tone here is incredibly effective.

Tucked away towards the end of the collection is Atwood’s title piece, Stone Mattress, which began life as a way of entertaining her fellow passengers during a trip to the Canadian Arctic. Intriguingly the wronged narrator is as cold and harsh as the landscape she has journeyed to see, until she has flashbacks to her past. The result is a fast-paced tale which continues that theme of revenge in a wonderful manner.

Each of the nine tales is told by a enjoyably strong yet flawed narrator. Atwood’s poetic prose and dark sense of humour flow throughout each one. The result is a heady, whirling mix which will elicit more than a few wry grins from the reader.