Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Edible Woman ~ Margaret Atwood

I like reading about eating.  I also like writing about eating, eating, and eating while reading.  Essentially, I’m a fat kid with a fondness for language.  Thus, the first time I heard of a novel named The Edible Woman, by none other than Margaret Atwood, herself, I knew I had to read it.  Not because I’m into cannibalism or anything; probably because of all the fruit on the cover.

The Edible Woman is a story by and about Marian, a woman who recently graduated college, lives in a cheap apartment above a slightly crazy old lady, works at a job she doesn’t really like, and has an anti-marriage boyfriend, towards whom her own feelings are a bit vague.  In short, she’s not so different than most college graduates.

Of course, part of what I like about The Edible Woman is that it portrays a world at once familiar and strange, remote and not so far in the past.  This is Atwood’s first novel, which she wrote in the sixties, at a time when the debate over whether woman should go to college was still strong and the language used to discuss it was still condescending and acceptable.  There’s this whole passage in which a man talks about how going to college makes a woman feel like she’s a real person, which is made all the worse by the fact that it doesn’t make anybody even flinch.  It’s amazing how far we’ve come in forty years, from a time when women worked but were expected to wear heels to the office every day and were let go when they got married, to a world where it’s acceptable for a woman to be the sole-breadwinner and going to college is a basic expectation of everybody.  We still have a ways to go in terms of gender equality and whatnot, but books The Edible Woman are a welcome reminder that things can change.

Anyways.  This isn’t meant to be a discussion of gender disparities; it’s supposed to be about all the reasons why The Edible Woman is a great book.  So here they are:

The characterization.  There are a good number of regularly repeated characters in the novel and each one is distinguishable (except for the office virgins, who are clearly supposed to be a type, and an unoriginal one at that).  The intricacies and quirks of these characters are all so memorable that I was never once left to wonder who anybody was.  It’s rare to see so many real individuals in novels without having to revert to stock characters.

Marian’s weirdness with food.  There’s a book called The Sexual Politics of Meat that I’ve wanted to read for a while now but haven’t, but I have a feeling that there’s some relation between it and The Edible Woman.  As Marian becomes consumed by the men in her life, she loses her own ability to consume.  The connection is so clever and the moment when she first feels disgust at a piece of meat is just perfect.

Duncan.  He reminds me a little of Septimus Smith in that he seems (to me at least) to make apparent Marian’s inner turmoil, even while helping to cause it.  Displacing Marian’s issues make them more open and easier to recognize.  Also, he cracks me up.

Finally, it’s a nice change to read about food issues outside of the “normal” anorexia/bulimia/overeating perspectives.  It’s also sad that I just used the adjective ‘normal’ but again, not the point here.  People’s relationships with food are so complex and range far beyond the commonly recognized eating disorders yet, in my experience, novelists rarely seem to realize that.

I highly recommend this novel to Atwood novices and lovers alike.  It’s the perfect length and goes by at the perfect speed.  Also, there’s cake at the end and that really should be reason enough for you.  (Also, is it weird that I want to try to make that cake?)

PS. This is my first book I've read this year that counts towards one of my challenges!  More specifically, it's the first book in the TBR challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  One down, eleven to go!


  1. This is such a cute review! I'm an Atwood lover, but have yet to read this one. Guess I'll have to add it to the wishlist. ;-)

  2. The characterisation is always really good in Atwood novels. Like Amanda I've not read this one yet, but now want to :)

  3. I've only read one Atwood novel (The Handmaid's Tale) which I really enjoyed - looks like I'm constantly missing out on all of her fabulous work and I need to voraciously read more Atwood.

  4. Yes you do! Both her novels of dystopia and the present-day are really excellent.