Margaret Atwood Captures Our Hearts

November 12, 2015 | Sarah Weinrauch

Comments (4)

On November 11, 2015, the Toronto Reference Library was a buzz! With customers arriving as early as 1 pm, a line up formed around the second floor as literary buffs, students, and fiction enthusiasts waited with eager anticipation for the evening’s event. The cause for all this excitement? None other than Canada’s own Margaret Atwood (home during an international tour for her latest novel) in conversation with CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos.

George and Margaret’s rapport was reminiscent of a conversation you might have with your favourite aunt; under an umbrella of cordiality, the two bantered back and forth with witty quips that kept the audience in constant giggles and occasional bouts of laughter. The conversation itself was vast and varied touching on Edward Allen Poe themed socks, Katie Patterson’s Future Library Project, Lord of the Rings #ELXN42 metaphors, and of course, her new book The Heart Goes Last.


Delving into the territory of Elvis-themed escorts, stuffed-animal carnality and customizable sexbots, The Heart Goes Last, which originated with an eBook serial in Byliner by the author, is a story about a future that’s gone wrong — featuring a young couple who sign up for a “social experiment” that offers them stable jobs and a home of their own. Described by her publishers around the world as “a wickedly funny and deeply disturbing novel about a near future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free,” the novel’s Orwellian overtones also bring to mind Shakespeare’s dark and whimsy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Before the two famed friends came to stage, 900 fans upstairs and down in the Reference Library recited John McCrae’s iconic poem, In Flanders Fields, in honour of Remembrance Day. Margaret is one of several acclaimed Canadian historians, novelist and poets who contributed their reflections on war, loss, and remembrance to the anthology In Flanders Fields: 100 Years. Following on this touching, patriotic moment, Margaret and George plunged into Canadian politics.

Margaret Atwood and George Stroumboulopoulos on stage at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on Remembrance Day.

Sharing her experience about a recent trip to Holland, Atwood expressed that being Canadian was very important and respected during World War II as Canadians were instrumental in the liberation of Netherlands. George (affectionately known by many as Strombo and now the host of Hockey Night in Canada) suggested that some in the international arena might say being Canadian is no longer popular:

“I think someone is going to write the book Ten Lost Years,” was Margaret’s gleeful response. “But what you really want me to tell you about is the piece I just wrote for Gizmodo in which I did the Canadian federal election as Lord of the Rings… The Dark Lord lost his grip on the ring of power! The Tower has crumbled! The Iron Cone of Silence shattered and fell apart. Out from the caves where they had been hiding came all the little hobbits blinking and singing songs of joy! The sun is shining again!”

George's persistence and charm and Margaret's feisty quips kept the audience laughing all night long.

In discussing the parallels between the real world and fiction, George proposed to the woman who is arguably the world’s most famous author that authors write novels for a reason aside from entertainment. Ms. Atwood replied:

“Any novel is about people – even if it’s about rabbits. We are with the characters, we go through their lives with them. The other things in the novel are their world. But any novel is really about the story of the characters in it… When you are going in [to write] a novel, it is dark.  You are thrashing about; you don’t quite know what you are going to find in there. As you proceed with the writing, that’s when you discover where you are, where you are going, what the point is. You discover the point when you are going through – but you don’t start out with it.”

Margaret Atwood mingled with fans, including City Librarian Vickery Bowles (bottom right), before and after her interview.

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays and she is published in thirty-five countries. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 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; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, the MaddAddam trilogy. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award.

Alias Grace Book Cover    Small - The Blind Assassin Book Cover    Small - The Handmaid's Tale Book Cover   

Small - MaddAddam Book Cover    Small - Oryx and Crake Book Cover    Small - The Year of the Flood Book Cover   

George’s impressive ascent in the media began in his early days as a Much Music VJ and took him to his own television show, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (formerly The Hour), a 30-minute talk show on current affairs, politics, arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of CBC's The Strombo Show, now in its tenth year on CBC Radio 2, featuring a wide-ranging mix of music and interviews and in 2014 he took over the host seat for the iconic Hockey Night in Canada.

Check back to watch the full interview with Margaret Atwood and George Stroumboulopoulos on the Toronto Public Library’s YouTube channel and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #AppelSalon.