Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

I checked the copyright date on this book and found out that it was first published in 1972. Let’s all pause and bow our heads to offer a silent prayer of thanks that Margaret Atwood has improved with time.

The copy I have of this book is part of a larger volume containing three Atwood novels. Because there’s no plot synopsis on the back of the book or the inside of the jacket, I dove into it having no idea what it was going to be about. It took me thirty pages to figure it out. For the benefit of future readers, here is my summary: a woman (unnamed, in a very Rebecca-like move) goes to her hometown in Canada with her boyfriend and their two married friends. The narrator grew up on a island in the middle of a lake with her parents and brother, and her father still lives on the island. However, he has disappeared, and the narrator is returning home to find out what happened to him. Without giving away the ending, I will just say that it’s confusing as hell and I still don’t know what the point of it all was.

I make it sound like a mystery thriller. It is not. That would be much too straightforward for Atwood. Instead, we get pages of run-on sentences about nature and sex and death and I don’t even know what else. But even confusing, no-clear-plot Atwood is still Atwood. Here’s what her main character says about the paper dolls from her childhood:

“Little girls in gray jumpers and white blouses, braids clipped to their heads with pink plastic barrettes, owned and directed them; they would bring them to school and parade them at recess, propping them up against the worn brick wall, feet in the snow, paper dresses no protection against the icy wind, inventing for them dances and parties, celebrations, interminable changing of costumes, a slavery of pleasure.”

Verdict: two out of five stars


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