Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction is in a dystopian decline. In The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), there is plenty to object to – the mangled prose, for starters. But at least that novel holds together as a diverting though implausible ‘what-if’, in which fundamentalism and soaring infertility rates force the protagonist, Offred, to become a handmaid – a breeder – for the Republic of Gilead, formerly the USA.
Three decades on, chaos reigns in Atwoodlandia. The Heart Goes Last began as a short story called ‘I’m Starved for You’ on the website Byliner. There was demand for more, as well as ‘almost immediate interest in turning it into a television series’. So she wrote another three stories in what became the Positron series, citing 19th-century serialisation as a model. ‘That’s how Pickwick Papers got written. It was like daytime