Prize-winning novelist Margaret Atwood's latest is a book based on a series of lectures delivered early this year: "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth". (You can listen to them streaming online or download the podcasts from this link until Dec 19, after which they will be available for a fee at iTunes).
Atwood brings her trademark wry humor and considerable word-mongering skills to tracing and sweeping over the concept of debt and payback in all fields. Tracking back through the historical depiction of 'something owed and something redeemed' from ancient Egyptian and Greek myth till the concept of sin and redemption overtook the majority of the populace as they moved on from the old gods to the new, she casts a sulphurous spotlight on the various episodes.
No analysis of debt in the literary world can ignore the fact that it has served as one of the best plot devices of all time. 'Payback' is no exception, taking detailed looks at novels like The Mill on the Floss and the granddaddy of debt dramas The Merchant of Venice. It even includes a hilarious and yet faintly disturbing retelling of The Christmas Carol that mixes the original Dickens with Oryx and Crakian dystopia.
Altogether, a refreshing read (or listen for those so inclined) as we ponder the ramifications of the enormous debt that the country has piled up over the last eight years. We may be going down under (and dreading the next bill from the credit card company or mortgage company), but it might as well be in style, enjoying a good cuppa while we savor the rollicking richness of Ms.Atwood's ruminations.