Payback: A Review

In Margaret Atwood’s richly informative and highly entertaining, Payback, she explores Debt – not just in its financial sense – but Debt as a construct in religion, literature and in – as she entertainingly illustrates in her re-imagining of Scrooge of the 21st century renamed as Scrooge Nouveu – the effects of Debt (and money) in human societies.

The book can best be summed up by Atwood herself in this amusing opening of the book’s last chapter,
“In my part of the world, we have a ritual interchange that goes like this:
First person: “Lovely weather we’re having.”
Second person: “We’ll pay for it later.”
What this ritual interchange reveals is a larger habit of thinking about the more enjoyable things in life: they’re only on loan or acquired on credit, and sooner or later the date when they must be paid for will roll around. “

Spending a great part of the year reading 19th century novels, I was looking forward to her exploration of the theme of debt (and money) in literature. She theorizes that at the very core of these novels (even in Austen’s romantic novels) is money (or the lack thereof in some cases). In fact, in novels like Madame Bovary and House of Mirth, the heroines’ ruin was brought about by issues of money. Although, I have to say I’m slightly disappointed that Balzac, whose novels unabashedly explores the ill effects of debt (both in the financial and metaphorical sense), was not referenced.

Here’s Atwood herself discussing Debt as motif in literature: