Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood

Virago Modern Classics aren't easy to find here so when I saw this one I snapped it up and decided to read it for the Advent with Atwood event this month. The only other Atwood I've read is The Handmaid's Tale which I really liked even though dystopian novels are not really my thing.

Rennie Wilford is a young Canadian journalist whose life, physically and emotionally, is falling apart. Breast cancer has left her with a partial mastectomy and her boyfriend has left her because he couldn't handle her illness. To get away from it all she decides to combine a holiday with writing a travel article and heads off to the Caribbean but the island of St Antoine turns out to be not quite the ' beachcomber's idyll' she is expecting. Instead she finds a lethal world of corruption and drug-running, political riots and violence ......a world where the naive Rennie finds herself struggling to survive.

Interspersed with the island action are long passages of first person narrative in which Rennie reflects on her childhood in small-town Griswold.....
" As a child I learned three things well: how to be quiet, what not to say, and how to look at things without touching them."
Margaret Atwood attacks the narrow-minded and oppressive respectability of small communities with vigour and a great deal of dark humour. Funny at first as I could relate it to my own upbringing and the emphasis on ' being decent' and staying away from anything 'cheap and nasty' but as the story progressed I began to feel too uncomfortable to laugh. Rennie leaves town as soon as she can but she remains a victim of her childhood influences. She is a passive observer of life who does not see beyond the surface. She chooses to write superficial lifestyle pieces rather than delve deeper into the truth of more serious subjects. In her relationships she allows herself to be moulded and manipulated and treated badly. Even her 'island holiday' is an attempt to disassociate herself from real life but in the end is the place where in order to survive she is forced to confront reality.

Bodily Harm is not 'nice' reading and there are no 'nice' characters. I didn't like what I was reading but then I don't expect Margaret Atwood wanted me to like it. In many ways it is similar to The Handmaid's Tale but even more frightening because it's set in the world we know and not an imaginary future. 

The writing is wonderful and the symbolism, particularly of hands and the sense of touch, is brilliant. It was compelling reading and I look forward to more of Margaret Atwood next year.

Canadian Book Challenge 6



12 comments:

  1. I read The Handmaid's Tale recently, as you know, and have been wondering which Margaret Atwood book I should try next. This does sound interesting even if not very 'nice', but a few of her other books appeal to me more so I'll probably leave this one for a while.

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    1. It doesn't seem to be one of her most liked novels and choosing from her better known titles is probably a good idea. I think I'll try Alias Grace and Cat's Eye.

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  2. I like Atwood, even when the characters and stories are not nice, her books are still compelling reading.

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    1. It sure is - I love her writing and looking forward to reading some of more well known novels.

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  3. For some reason, I have a whole pile of Atwood books waiting to be read, and I haven't read one yet! Shocking, I know. :) I plan on reading The Handmaid's Tale next year at the very least.

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    1. It's taken me a long time to read MA too but I do like her writing style and will definitely read more next year.

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  5. Atwood's most fun read is The Edible Woman. It's wry and hilarious. The book that captured me and made me think about for weeks afterward was Cat's Eye. I recommend those for readers new to Atwood.

    (sorry--had to fix a typo from above)

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Denise. I have Cat's Eye on my bookshelf so will try that one next and I'm sure sure my library will have The Edible Woman - I like the sound of 'wry and hilarious'.

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  6. You've made picking my next Atwood Novel all the more harder " In many ways it is similar to The Handmaid's Tale but even more frightening because it's set in the world we know and not an imaginary future. " That comment makes me want to read this one a lot sooner than later. Her Positon Serial (EBook) has also been interesting read, and as some similar food for thought as most of her other books.. And Alias Grace is a personal favourite by her.

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    1. Alias Grace seems to be a general favourite ( unlike Bodily Harm) and I look forward to reading it some time.

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