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Life Before Man (Contemporary Classics) Paperback – 19 Sep 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (19 Sept. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099741016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099741015
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays.

In addition to the classic The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize and Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, was published in 2009. She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature in 2008.

Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto, Canada.

(Photo credit: George Whitside)

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Review

"A modern saga...she has a fine ear for words and a quick wit for absudities" (The Times)

"An extraordinary imagination - witty, light-footed, realistic, yet with shooting insights into the nature of personality and love" (Isabel Quigley Financial Times)

"Tender, funny, absorbing, idiosyncratic, truthful, heartening... A liberating novel. It deserves a wide readership" (Michael Herbert Literary Review)

"Mordant intelligence; formidable insight into the springs of human self-deception, self-aggrandisement and self-destruction; and an effortless, always vivid style" (Jeffrey Meyers Spectator)

"Beautifully written and constructed... A rich and elegant achievement" (Peter Kemp Listener)

Book Description

'A splendid work...superb' - Marilyn French

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By m.nell@rf.roccadefinance.nl on 25 Oct. 2000
Format: Paperback
What is the nature of a fossil? Using a quote from Bjorn Kurten to precede this novel, Atwood illuminates much of what is to follow: a fossil is not necessarily a part of an organism, but could be a record of its activity: a footprint, perhaps. It could be a prehistoric equivalent of graffiti.
Using the fossil as the central metaphor for her novel, Atwood tells the story of three individuals whose lives collide with cataclysmic effect. Told in episodes from the three different perspectives the reader uncovers the story much like an archaeologist might uncover the treasures of a prehistoric site. Elizabeth, Nate and Lesje are put under the microscope and steadily stripped down to their essential components by a narrator (although a few of Elizabeth's episodes are told in the first person) who is as objective as a scientist. We all know, however, that scientists are not always objective.
What makes this novel so fascinating is this interplay between cold fact and emotional involvement. Atwood refuses to follow easy paths to happy solutions and the reader senses early on that a tragic outcome is as inevitable as the eventual extinction of Lesje's beloved dinosaurs. Her characters are neither heroes nor villains, neither heartless monsters nor innocent victims. They are driven towards their fates by forces as much in their own natures as in the natures of those around them.
As any true Atwood devotee would expect, the writing is sharp, witty, observant and totally compelling. It is perhaps richer in symbolism than many of her other novels, yet it does not tread the mystical and poetic waters (so to speak) of "Surfacing". It reads deceptively easily and the bubbling volcano at its core is implied rather than stated.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By I like books on 9 Aug. 2005
Format: Paperback
In 'Life Before Man', Margaret Atwood presents us with several lead characters, displays their troubled souls and lets their worlds overlap. No-one would envy any one of these characters but perhaps we can identify with some of their traits. In Elizabeth we witness the self-destruction that comes from excessive self-control - I wanted to slap her, shake her, anything to make her speak out. I watched with sadness Lesje's innocent quest to find love that will not suffocate her, although she risks becoming the one who smothers. Nate is almost docile. He tries to find happiness but is pulled apart between Elizabeth's oppressive coldness and Lesje's neediness.

This is not a cheerful book, but nor is it overly morose. I found that I could see what was going to happen, how each character would feel about it and how they would try to deal with it. But being able to foretell the consequences does not mean that the book is dull or predictable, rather that the characters seem so real that I could second guess them. Margaret Atwood has written these people so well that they feel as familiar as friends or colleagues - a skill demonstrated by only the best of writers. You will look upon them as you would a friend who is ignoring your wise advice and heading for a downfall! If you are a fan of Atwood's work then this is represents a worthy addition to your bookshelf.
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Format: Paperback
Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood is a thoroughly disturbing read. It is beautifully written and imaginatively constructed. The prose is a delight, as are insights into character and comments on contemporary life which, in Life Before Man, happens around mid-1970s Toronto. What is disturbing about this tale of the eternal triangle, the love triangle, of course, is that these people seem to be imprisoned by the inevitable. Theirs, by the way, is less of a triangle than a dodecagon. They all seem to be quite prolific in their pursuit of the attainable. They are also reminiscent of people trying to break out from their own limitations, but who remain doomed to repeat their accustomed mistakes. Intervention might possibly break the cycle, but this would appear to be an imagination beyond where anyone lives. And any interruption to the apparently inevitable would surely just recreate circumstances that would ensure reversion to type.

Lesje (pronounced Lashia) is in one relationship with William and another with fossils. Sometimes she becomes confused as to which is which. She and William are not married. This may or may not have significance, depending on the moral stance you take on contemporary ideas of the permissive. In fact Lesje is espoused to her work in the palaeontology section of the museum where she is employed, along with, if not exactly alongside, other members of the plot. Lesje is a slight figure, small breasted and thin, but she seems to punch above her weight intellectually and also physically, when she finds what she wants.

Elizabeth is married to Nate. They have two children and what was called at the time an "open" relationship, that in reality is about as open as a deceitful closed door.
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By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
A very subtle and thoughtful look at the collapse of a marriage and the process of divorce. Atwood's story is told by the three people involved: Elizabeth, the wife who cheats on and despises her husband but won't tolerate the thought of losing his protection (of her and their two girls); Nate, the husband, a gentle man trying to hang onto his family life but also find someone to love him; and Lesje, the young woman he falls in love with, daughter of Eastern European and German immigrants, who seeks relief from the confusion of her family's past by sinking herself into science and in particular into the study of the dinosaurs. Atwood slowly makes you understand more and more about all three characters, and sympathize with all of them in their different ways, as their lives become more and more fraught. We learn that the chilly Elizabeth has become as she is partly because of a disturbed childhood and adolescence which has included a dead mother, an absent father, a mad then dead sister and a cruel, old-fashioned aunt who brought her up. We sympathize with Nate's desire to do the right thing and to try to keep everyone happy even as we want to shake him for trying to placate Elizabeth (and also, later, Lesje) so much. And Atwood paints a vivid picture of how Lesje, who begins as a rather naive woman (happy to settle for a rather dull partner and a life of routine, retreating regularly into a fantasy of living in the land of the dinosaurs) is forced to grow up and encounter human emotion. There are some beautiful passages: descriptions of Lesje's immigrant family; of the exhibition Elizabeth is organizing at the museum where she works and of the furnishings in her house; of Nate's feeling of freedom when running.Read more ›
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