The Tent

The Tent

by Margaret Atwood


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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale

In this delightful mélange of short fiction, Margaret Atwood pushes the boundaries of form in intriguing directions. Alongside meditations on warlords, cat heaven, and orphans, she offers a sly pep talk to the ambitious young, laments the proliferation of photos of oneself, imagines an apocalypse of worms, and recalls Helen of Troy’s childhood Kool-Aid stand. In the title fable, a writer huddled inside a tent of paper engages in doodling as self-defense, scribbling on the walls in a frantic attempt to keep out encroaching horrors. Adorned with her own playful illustrations, The Tent is replete with Atwood’s droll humor, keen insight, and lyric brilliance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400097012
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/08/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 743,567
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. 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, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.


Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario


B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Life Stories

Why the hunger for these? If it is a hunger. Maybe it’s more like bossiness. Maybe we just want to be in charge, of the life, no matter who lived it.

It helps if there are photos. No more choices for the people in them — pick this one, dump that one. The livers of the lives in question had their chances, most of which they blew. They should have spotted the photographer in the bushes, they ­shouldn’t have chewed with their mouths open, they ­shouldn’t have worn the strapless top, they ­shouldn’t have yawned, they ­shouldn’t have laughed: so unattractive, the candid denture. So that’s what she looked like, we say, connecting the snapshot to the year of the torrid affair. Face like a half-­eaten pizza, and is that him, gaping down her front? What did he see in her, besides cheap lunch? He was already going bald. What was all the fuss about?

I’m working on my own life story. I ­don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart. It’s mostly a question of editing. If you’d wanted the narrative line you should have asked earlier, when I still knew everything and was more than willing to tell. That was before I discovered the virtues of scissors, the virtues of matches.

I was born
, I would have begun, once. But snip, snip, away go mother and father, white ribbons of paper blown by the wind, with grandparents tossed out for good measure. I spent my childhood. Enough of that as well. Goodbye dirty little dresses, goodbye scuffed shoes that caused me such anguish, goodbye well-­thumbed tears and scabby knees, and sadness worn at the edges.

Adolescence can be discarded too, with its salty tanned skin, its fecklessness and bad romance and leakages of seasonal blood. What was it like to breathe so heavily, as if drugged, while rubbing up against strange leather coats in alleyways? I ­can’t remember.

Once you get started it’s fun. So much free space opens up. Rip, crumple, up in flames, out the window. I was born, I grew up, I studied, I loved, I married, I procreated, I said, I wrote, all gone now. I went, I saw, I did. Farewell crumbling turrets of historic interest, farewell icebergs and war monuments, all those young stone men with eyes upturned, and risky voyages teeming with germs, and dubious hotels, and doorways opening both in and out. Farewell friends and lovers, you’ve slipped from view, erased, defaced: I know you once had hairdos and told jokes, but I ­can’t recall them. Into the ground with you, my tender fur-­brained cats and dogs, and horses and mice as well: I adored you, dozens of you, but what were your names?

I’m getting somewhere now, I’m feeling lighter. I’m coming unstuck from scrapbooks, from albums, from diaries and journals, from space, from time. Only a paragraph left, only a sentence or two, only a whisper.

I was born.
I was.

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Tent 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Witty, enlightening, entertaining and sometimes confusing, The Tent by Margaret Atwood was a collection of essays and prose with that famous Atwoodian look at life. Each essay stood individually as its own; however, one can sense a theme of self-exploration and concern for the state of ¿humanness¿ throughout all of the stories.Admittedly, several of the pieces went right over my head, but overall, most were succinct but profound. My favorite essay was one about cat heaven, where a family cat died, met God and asked if he could catch the ¿mice¿ in the field. God corrected the cat, saying they were actually human souls that he should capture and torture as long as he can: ¿Our heaven is their hell, said God. I like a balanced universe.¿ (page 65). Perhaps it¿s my dry humor, but I found that line laugh-out-loud funny (perhaps because I have cats who love to play with my head here on earth).The Tent is a nice companion book to Atwood¿s fiction, revealing another side to the dynamic writing of Margaret Atwood. This is a must-read for Atwood fans.
rmckeown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A publisher¿s blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition calls this book ¿A delightfully pointed mélange of fictional pieces.¿ But I disagree. These short ¿ sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always poignant ¿ pieces are far too poetic to deserve the title of ¿fictional pieces.¿I love Margaret Atwood. I have loved her since I read The Handmaid¿s Tale some 20 plus years ago. I loved her when I drove six hours in an old, beat-up Chevy toting a pile of books to hear her read at the Harvard Book Store Café in Boston. She graciously signed all eight, and she smiled, and she thanked me, and I loved her more. Shamefully, I have not read much by her the last couple of years, but The Tent is the first step in remedying that situation. This slim volume contains so many of her thoughts and musings, her streams of consciousness, so much of her humor, her intelligence, I hardly know where to begin describing anything on these pages.My favorite piece is the eponymous entry, and it begins:¿You¿re in a tent. It¿s vast and cold outside, very vast, very cold. It¿s a howling wilderness¿But you have a candle in your tent. You can keep warm¿ (143).¿The trouble is, your tent is made of paper. Paper won¿t keep anything out. You know you must right on the walls, on the paper walls, on the inside of your tent. You must write upside down and backwards, you must cover every available space on the paper with writing¿ (144).¿Wind comes in, your candle tips over and flares up, and a loose tent-flap catches fire, and through the widening black-edged gap you can see the eyes of the howlers, red and shining in the light from your burning paper shelter, but you keep on writing anyway because what else can you do?¿ (146).I guess the paper tent could not protect her from fans toting bags of books either. Get this book and read it now. That¿s an order! 5 stars.--Jim, 6/21/09
claudiabowman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A few really stand-out stories and a few groaners.
Cait86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Tent is a slim, 155 page volume of short stories - sketches, really - and a few poems, all of which demonstrate an Atwood who is at the top of her game. These pieces aren't long; most are only two or three pages. In such a short space, Atwood still manages to make the reader think, really think, about life. She comments on childhood and youth, on aging, on writing, and on numerous other topics - yet she manages to somehow link them all together into a collection that makes sense.The titular story comes near the end of the book, and it makes the preceding pages all make sense. Here, Atwood writes about writing; the reason for writing, the drive to write, and the futility of writing. It is one of the most effective pieces in The Tent, and the one that I immediately reread.This is a book that, after reading once, I know I will look to periodically for inspiration. It furthers my admiration for Atwood, and shows that a book does not have to be hundreds of pages to make you think.
goose114 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There were definitely some good selections in this collection of short stories and poems, but overall, this was a mediocre book. There were a few pieces that I think would have benefited from being fleshed out a little more and there were others that I think could have been omitted all together.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This collection of ministories is surprising by its variety. Some are humorous, others cynical, poetic or hopeful. A great read for the bus when snapshots can be easily absorbed.
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Atwood has been my favorite author for over a decade, so this book was a must read for me. It was also a huge disappointment. Some of the stories in her book sounded more like short stories written by highschool students trying to sound clever. Some were very good, though, some were even funny (especially the "Three books I'll never write" one. Most of the stories center around aging, coming to terms with getting older, how age changes views in history, etc. There are a small handful of gems in here, but not enough to make me want to recommend it. This certainly shouldn't be any reader's first trip into her writing, or them may never want to return.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
The Tent by Margaret Atwood, which helps to fulfill my Project Atwood requirement.  The Tent is a short book filled with super short stories (2 pages usually, sometimes less).  I have to say I have mixed feelings on these.  The book is split up into 3 sections, and I enjoyed the second section the best.  The first section I just didn't understand.   But I did enjoy some of the satirical quotes from the stories.  Here are some of my favorites:  "No more photos.  Surely there are enough.  No more shadows of myself thrown by light onto pieces of paper, onto squares of plastic." - p. 25  "You're not my real parents, every child has thought. I'm not your real child.  But with orphans, it's true.  What freedom, to thumb your nose authentically!" - p. 29 "What are we do to?  The child sex trade is not for us: our children are unattractive and rude, and - due to the knowledge of our history - have a bad habit of mugging prospective customers and shoving them over cliffs." - p. 60 The Tent is super short and a very quick read, so if you're a huge Atwood fan, check it out.  Some of the stories were great, some were bizarre.  
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