British Association for American Studies


Storify of our #bookhour on THE HEART GOES LAST by Margaret Atwood


#Bookhour is an open forum twitter discussion between scholars and the public that takes place the last Tuesday of the month. Find out more here.

During November’s #bookhour, Sam Cooper, Terri-Jane Dow, Dr Karma Waltonen, and #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro discussed Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopia, The Heart Goes Last (2015). The chat considered the satiric aspects of Atwood’s novel, the characters, and the narrative focalisation – elements which sparked debates around the believability of the plot. The discussion also focussed on the notions of utopia and dystopia, on the role of surveillance and desire in the Positron Project, on the economic crisis and the text’s suburban imagery. Catch up on the chat below.

Discussion questions

Q1 Most reviewers agree this novel is comic satire–what’s funny to you, and why?

Q2 Literary explorations of society often employ naive “everymen” as the main characters–do Charmaine and Stan successfully fill those roles?

Q3 Just prior to THGL’s release, Atwood penned an opinion piece (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/18/margaret-atwood-we-are-double-plus-unfree) arguing that, in the digital age of surveillance, we’ve willingly “surrendered too many of our hard-won freedoms”. How effectively does THGL probe this idea?

Q4 How does THGL present the American Dream? What’s the significance of the “utopian” 1950s suburbia of Consilience vs the economic crisis?

Q5 How believable is Atwood’s dystopia?

Q6 The Positron project tries to quash human desire in its workers, but encourages it in others (e.g. with sexbots) – does the unpredictability of desire cause the project’s failure?

Discussion leaders

Sam Cooper (@sjcooper3) is a PhD candidate and Teaching Associate at the University of Nottingham. His research explores the ways in which contemporary North American writing employs polysemy and narrative fragmentation in order to deconstruct the language, logic and spatiality of neoliberalism. Sam’s research interests include critical theory, poetry and poetics, space and globalisation, and the encyclopaedic novel.

Diletta De Cristofaro (@tedilta) is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, where she was recently awarded her doctorate. Her PhD thesis deals with time and history in twenty-first-century post-apocalyptic fiction and, in particular, with the nexus between the conception of history featured in these novels and that of postmodern theories. Diletta’s research interests include apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, utopias and dystopias, contemporary Anglo-American writings, and critical theory. Diletta has published on Jim Crace and Cormac McCarthy.

Terri Jane Dow (@terrijane) is a writer, editor, and independent researcher, working mainly on gender, dystopias, and post-apocalyptic North American fiction. She graduated from her MSc in American Literature at the University of Edinburgh in 2014, and edits Severine Literary Journal in her spare time.

Karma Waltonen (@KarmaWaltonen) is a lecturer in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. A former President of the Margaret Atwood Society, she is the current editor of Margaret Atwood Studies. Recent publications include work on The Simpsons, Doctor Who, and Star Trek.