Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: Surfacing

By Margaret Atwood
Anchor March 1998, Original 1972
208 pages
From personal library 

I must say from the beginning that I think Margaret Atwood is a genius. The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin were excellent. I am trying to complete my Atwood collection and received this one for Christmas. (Thanks sis!) Unfortunately, this was not my favorite of her novels.

Surfacing follows an unnamed female narrator as she heads back home into the forest of Quebec. Her father has gone missing and she must find out if he is still alive. She is accompanied on this trip by her boyfriend and by another couple. 

This is a strange book and not a good entry point if you are picking up your first Atwood. This is a deeply psychological novel chronicling the descent of a young woman into madness. She is far removed from other people, at times seeming like a conspiracy theorist, convinced that the American tourists and even her friends are out to get her. The themes here are strong - what it means to be a woman, the destruction of nature by the rise of the city and technology. 

“They know everything about each other, I thought, that’s why they’re so sad; but Anna was more than sad, she was desperate, her body her only weapon and she was fighting for her life, he was her life, her life was the fight: she was fighting him because if she ever surrendered the balance of power would be broken and he would go elsewhere. To continue the war.”

The unfortunate thing is that there is not a lot of story here to hold up the themes. There is a great feeling of stagnation throughout the novel. The characters are often bored and unsure what to do since they are isolated, essentially stranded in the narrator's childhood home until the boat returns to take them home from the island. This does, however, give Atwood room to render some beautiful description of nature. 

I was also struck by the bitterness of women towards men, as well as society in general. The narrator is so bitter towards everyone - her boyfriend who she doesn't feel as much for as she wishes, the man she really did love, her father, the other man accompanying them on their trip. The vitriol caught me off guard and in some cases, seemed completely unearned. 

Finishing this novel  left me feeling very unsettled and in that respect, I think Atwood succeeded with Surfacing. It's a bizarre read, but one that will linger in your memory for a long time. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds pretty odd, but it does appeal to me. I might have to give it a look some time.