Monday, January 7, 2013

Surfacing ~ Margaret Atwood

I've been a little back-logged on reviews - I have some written for books I read in 2012 but haven't posted yet, and others I haven't even written.  So I'm playing catch up in January.  I read Surfacing at the end of December.  It was the third book I read by Margaret Atwood last year, and my third reminder of why she's so good.  I'm not sure how I haven't read her entire back-list yet, but I definitely intend to do so eventually.

Surfacing is written in the first-person, narrated by an unnamed woman who is returning to her childhood home, a rustic cabin on an island in a lake in the middle of nowhere/somewhere in Canada, to search for her father, who has gone missing.  She goes with her current lover and a married couple they're friends with, mostly because she doesn't have a car or a license.  What was meant to be a two-day trip turns into a week as the four turn against one another.  That's pretty much all I can say without giving away too much or going into excessive detail, because this isn't a novel about events.  It's a very internal novel, dealing with the narrator's thoughts, feelings, and development - the events of the novel are more incidental than anything.

Surfacing is Atwood's second novel, published in 1972, and it almost feels like an extension of The Edible Woman, her first novel.  Marian and Surfacing's narrator don't have much in common in terms of background, but the two women react similarly to the pressures and expectations society puts on them, going inside themselves in a very strange way as they detach from reality.  The narrator of Surfacing could be an older Marian, with a few more life experiences under her belt, driven so much farther than Marian went.

It's hard to know what to say about Surfacing without revealing too much.  The narrator's voice, however, necessitates discussion.  At the beginning, it was just bizarre.  I'm pretty sure there were several typos, even though this wasn't an old ARC that somehow surfaced (pun!), and there just seemed to be something off about her.  I even wondered is maybe she was meant to be autistic, though there was no mention of that (but was autism really a thing in 1979?).  She just seemed so detached, observing but not truly present.  And then she goes to sleep in her old home and wakes up and just seems so much more normal.  She started having relatable emotions and thoughts.  And then something happens (I won't say what) and her voice changes again, becoming even stranger than before as something snaps in her.  It was bizarre, but because of the fact that the changes seemed connects to events in the book, it worked.

This is a book that really needs to be read and reread.  I liked it, but I'm sure that I would get so much more out of it with a reread, and probably a group discussion.  It would be a fantastic pick for a book club, and maybe even a blogger read along!  Maybe one day I'll host such a thing.  In the meantime, I'll try to keep puzzling out what it all means.  It's strange and interesting and there's a lot there... I'm just not sure what it all is.


  1. Ok, I don't want to read through the whole post because I want to be completely surprised. I love Margaret Atwood and know this won't disappoint. Did you participate in the readalong we hosted earlier in the year, the one with Alias Grace? I'll admit I wasn't a fan but I'm looking forward to branching out because I've only read Cat's Eye, the rest being the dystopian works.

    1. Yes, I participated in the Alias Grace readalong. I liked it, but I probably like Surfacing a little better. It's more complicated.