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This review is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

LOAVES AND FICTIONS Margaret Atwood, Murder in the Dark (Jonathan Cape) £3.95 pb.

This book consists of twenty-seven short prose texts - short fictions and prose poems, according to the title page - three of which ('Bread', 'The Page', 'Happy Endings') belong with the most intelligent imaginative writing I have read this last year or so.

'Bread' is in five parts. The first merely presents bread, white or brown, bought in a packet or made oneself, and so on: it is a vertical cut through everyday life (or loaf), with a nod at photo-realism. The second part posits famine; the reader and the reader's stricken sister have a last piece of bread, and a series of questions asks who gets it - the weaker sister, or the reader, whose survival chances are better - and how the decision is made. This is the moral-economic part. Part three, which like the first two opens by ordering the reader to 'imagine', envisages bread offered an anguished prisoner as the potential reward for betrayal of fellow-prisoners and comrades. 'The piece of bread was brown and fresh and reminded you of sunlight falling across a wooden floor': the image is a recurrent one in Atwood and its usual connotation of great peace is here ironic, for 'The bread they offered you is subversive, it's treacherous, it does not mean life'. This is the Koestler/Solzhenitsyn part. Part four is the Brothers Grimm part: the cruelty of the rich sister to the starving poor sister, and red blood flowing from the cut bread. Atwood treats the ...


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