The Next Chapter·Books + Music

Why the album Transgressions by Lakes of Canada is a fine work of Margaret Atwood fan fiction

The Next Chapter columnist Treasa Levasseur takes a look at albums inspired by books and explores just how connected music can be to literature.
Treasa Levasseur discusses Transgressions, an album by Lakes of Canada and compares it to The Handmaid's Tale, the book that inspired the album. (McClelland & Stewart)

Blues musician and The Next Chapter columnist Treasa Levasseur looks at Lakes of Canada's album Transgressions, which was inspired by Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. The 1985 novel — which inspired a critically acclaimed TV series — is set in a dystopian future where a right-wing fundamentalist sect has taken over the American government. 

The story behind the album

"The story behind the creation of the album is quite sad. The Handmaid's Tale was a favourite novel of the mother of band member, Jake Smith. He had never read the book until after her death, when he was going through her things and came upon her copy. He started reading it as a way to reconnect with his mom and fell into this world that took him by surprise and inspired him as an artist."

Music as fan fiction

"He didn't create a literal interpretation of the book. Transgressions is more like fan fiction, an extension of the book. It's postmodern and doesn't quite fit into any one genre. It's different from the soundtrack of the current television show, which is very spare. Transgressions is more like the band took this world, extended it, interpreted it and re-coloured it."

Finding the voice

"Navigating my way through the record I was perplexed — and sort of annoyed — by how centralized the male voice was, given that there is also a female singer in this band. The novel is narrated by a woman, so why is a male voice so dominant on this album?

"As I progressed, it started to make sense. Even though the book is narrated by a woman, the world which Margaret Atwood created is entirely male voiced. This is a woman's internal voice. And then, redemptively, the album started to feature the female voice coming through. So there's an arc of centrality for the female voice, she started to soar and rise in importance in the music."

Treasa Levasseur's comments have been edited and condensed.