on 13 August 2004
'Lady Oracle' tells the story of serious feminist writer Joan Foster, (the Lady Oracle of the title) and her secret life as gothic-romance writer Louisa Delacourt, from Joan's life from a chubby child, her conflict with her mother who wants the perfect daughter, her battle to lose weight, bizarre affairs, (one with a Polish Count and another with an artist named 'The Royal Porcupine',) eventual marriage to the pasteboard Arthur, and the bizarre way in which she leaves the mundanity of her marriage to quite literally begin a new life.
The novel opens with the fantastic line 'I planned my death carefully; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it' and goes on to explain that the narrator has faked her own death in order to escape both her stillborn marriage and a blackmail attempt by the mysterious Fraser Buchanan.
It then continues with vivid, moving, and highly amusing accounts of her childhood. The narrator was a fat person until her late adolescense, and here Atwood gives a voice to the underrepresented and oppressed overweight of today's society. Joan's battles with her mother, of which her body was the battleground, are telling of a society where it is unacceptable to be anything except a perfect ten.
Atwood then alternates the narrative of the story with extracts from the gothic romance her narrator is writing: 'Stalked by love.' It is in these extracts, and the narrator's thoughts on them, that Atwood's trademark insightfulness truly flourishes, as even the most militant feminist finds herself confessing that what they really want is a Rochester. I particularly like the quotation 'Escape wasn't a luxury for (my readers), it was a necessity ... and when they were too tired to invent escapes of their own, mine were available for them at the corner drugstore, neatly packaged like the other painkillers.'
What more can I say? This gives a fantastic insight into the world of the fat woman in modern society, and makes the reader of romance novels consider their guilty pleasure in a new light. Atwood at her thought-provoking best.
The only thing I found disappointing about this book is that it came to an end. I therefore immediately went out and bought The Edible Woman so that I could stay in Atwood's world a bit longer.
Margaret Atwood has such a wonderful way of telling the story about an ordinary woman - she isn't beautiful beyond imagination, she doesn't have fantastically wonderful relationships, a model husband and unrealistically good looking children, she is simply Joan Foster, with long red hair and, as one of the characters puts it "built like a brick nuthouse". But she doesn't need to have all the above things because Margaret has given her character a wonderfully touching and extraordinary life. Extraordinary because it is so ordinary!!!
Atwood strikes exactly the right balance in this book between moments of raw pain (Joan's childhood and relationship with her mother) and comic moments. I really really loved this book. It doesn't really have a proper ending but it wouldn't have because this is a snapshot of someone's life so it wouldnt tie up neatly at the end as you would not then be left wondering how Joan gets on.
Some people have moaned that Atwood includes too much detail in her novels but I think this is tosh - the details make it more real - who wants to read a book where the characters don't eat, sleep, burp, become obese, look ugly, in short, they don't behave like real people.
She has a wonderful way of describing relationships, especially the tensions and misapprehensions but by far the most chilling, Atwood can convey exactly the relationship between a bully and a victim and this is a common theme in her novels. It can be very unnerving to read especially if you yourself have been through similar experiences but then again, that just goes towards making the book more "real".
I would DEFINITELY suggest that you read this book, get it out of the library for free if you want to read it first before commiting yourself to buying it, but I reckon that most of you will end up with a copy of your own as you will want to read it again and again!!
on 1 March 2011
I first read a Margaret Atwood novel only 2 years ago and since then I have managed to read them all as they are mostly fasinating.Since her international breakthrough novel puplished in the early 80s the Handmaiden's Tale, her novels have mostly been of the highest quality (the Penolopiad is an exception).Her early novels dating from the 60s while interesting and showing a promising talent can at times seem dated and a little lacking in action.
This novel however is still as fresh as when it was first puplished in the 1970s.It also shows some of the later themes of Atwood's novels. The novel starts towards the end of the story and gaps are filled in to bring the reader up to date.The main female character has had a bullied upbringing and exotic affairs (Cats Eye and The Robber Bride ). There is even a subplot consisting of the main character's own fiction making an appearance on the page (The Blind Assassin).If you have already read and enjoyed Atwood's later novels this book is well worth reading.
I hate to be the only negative reviewer of this book, and must add that I'm usually a big Atwood fan (apart from the dystopian fiction, which, though well written, I found too painful to get through), and have read a lot of her work, and admire her a lot. But to be honest - I really hated this book! For one thing, I found all the characters pretty dislikeable, from the self-indulgent heroine - an overweight girl and teenager who becomes a romance writer and builds up a whole double-life with a Marxist husband plus infidelity on the side - to the self-righteous Marxist husband, the flamboyant Polish Count (if he was one), the Performance Artist lover (who nearly made me throw up), the heroine's terrible fighting parents and - well, it's a while since I read the book but I can't remember liking any of the characters. The traumas of childhood were described in a more melodramatic and much less subtle way than in 'Cat's Eye', nothing really happened (apart from the heroine getting into worse and worse scrapes), the ending was completely inconclusive, and the big passages of quotes from a trashy romance that Joan the heroine was writing simply showed how boring books of the Mills and Boon kind are. She was also clearly not meant to be considered a talented poet as her poems all came to her 'in visions' dictated by an external force. All the characters seemed to me to be ghastly caricatures, and this book taught me that the Classical view that leading characters have to all have something in them that you sympathize with and something noble is in fact quite a good view to hold.
This review is not to get at Atwood, a fine writer; but I must say that it's a book I never want to read again! Not a good introduction to her work either - read 'Cat's Eye' or 'Life Before Man' first.
on 11 December 2013
The opening of the novel is certainly gripping and immediately the reader wants to know why the narrator has planned their own death. It is this starting point that draws you in, but I'm afraid this intensity doesn't really last beyond the first few chapters.
The novel is basically about the life of the narrator, leading up to present day where the story began with revealing they had planned their own death. The plot then moves forward and shows how the narrator has dealt with this new-found isolation and whether she has in fact succeeded in fooling the world.
Whilst reading this book I was hoping for something more than just a recollection of the character's life. True, it is evident that the narrator is quite a paranoid person and the opening of the story makes more and more sense as you read on, but I found myself seeking something beyond this recollection. Perhaps a bit more action rather than reflection.
The narrator is a writer and Atwood includes excerpts from the books that she is writing. These are quite entertaining to read and provide a light-hearted escape from the development of the story, even if the books that are written are just "trashy novels". As a result, I found the main story line a little suffocating because of the emotions that the character professes and the negativity, particularly surrounding her growing up and her relationship with her mother.
This is the second Margaret Atwood novel I have read and I am convinced there are better ones out there (like `The Handmaid's Tale'). Many people have told me how great her novels are so I think I have just chosen a spanner in the works. It is not one I would recommend and think I need to read some more of her works to get a better flavour of her writing style.
on 12 July 2013
There are a few books out there which you will want to read over and over - this one, I read and then immediately started to read again, it was just that good. I just didn't want the experience of reading it to end. In fact, I can quite honestly, hand on heart say, this book changed my life. It was this book which made me decide that I had to be a writer, and, indeed, my very first attempt at writing was a historical romance much like the ones Joan Foster pens in this, her story. There's a bit of everything in Margaret Atwood's work and I would have to say that in my opinion, it's as near to perfect as it's possible to be. Beautifully crafted, thoughtful and thought provoking, so many original and realistically depicted characters, moments of drama and comedy. She writes with a beautiful and witty turn of phrase which never misses a beat.
This is the story of Joan, a massively obese girl, who transforms herself into a beautiful (slim) writer of historical (hysterical) romances with the aid of a Polish count. She then meets up with Arthur, the "radical" who seems to err on the side of caution to be all that "out there" before transforming herself again into a poet. Like all Atwood books, I just didn't want it to end (as I have said, it can be the only book I've ever read where I finished it and immediately turned back to the start of the novel to read it again). The excerpts from the hysterical romance are just fantastic. If you are a fan of the romance genre as well as of literary fiction, you will adore this book.
One of Margaret Atwood's earliest novels, and one that shows the skill which would go on to make her one of the most popular and celebrated authors of modern times. The narrator is Joan - or perhaps Louisa - who has fled her native Canada after faking her own death. The novel is basically her life story up to that point, explaining how she came to be in such an extreme situation. Identity is an important theme - Joan effectively has at least two, and is constantly running from one to the other, never truly comfortable with either. Her life spirals into a mess after she publishes an unexpectedly successful book, and attracts all sorts of unwelcome attention.
Joan is an interesting character and I particularly liked the earlier part of the book about her childhood and adolescence as a grossly overweight child/teenager. Her fat was another kind of disguise, and the depiction of how society treats the extremely overweight - and how being obese can become a form of protection - is really well done and powerful. There are some thought provoking aspects to this part of the story, particularly in today's size-obsessed society, about how 'fat' can become a person's defining characteristic and about the way extremes of size can affect a person's identity - both to themselves and to others.
There is a slightly supernatural element to the story, which you could choose not to believe if that really bothers you. I found the later part of the book a bit less insightful than the first, but that is probably because it is writing about married life which is not something I identify personally with. It is also a little dated in this sense, although that makes it interesting. I think you would call this a feminist novel, as I feel the struggles with identity depicted here are a more female issue than male, and there is a definite strand about the possessive behaviour of men. In this sense I found the novel less relevant to my life as some of the situations Joan/Louisa found are no longer so true of our society now - at least in my part of the world.
I did find the later happenings of the novel a bit contrived, and I never did fully understand exactly what was happening at the end. However, the writing is brilliant, full of wry humour, clever observations and insights. You will enjoy reading the book even if you do have to suspend your disbelief for some of the plot points. I think older female readers, who were around in the 1960s, might find this book particularly good as it may strike more of a note with them than it did me. However that shouldn't put off male or younger readers, as this is a well written novel and thee is plenty that all can enjoy about it.
on 16 February 2016
I tried to give this 4 stars, but I couldn’t. From the very beginning I had absolutely no idea what was going on but I kept reading because I presumed it would all be resolved in the end. But it wasn’t. I still have no idea what the point of this book was.
The only reason I didn’t give it less than 3 stars is because I found some parts of it quite enjoyable, like learning about Joan’s childhood. To me, that was the most enjoyable part of the book but from the moment she met Arthur, it got boring.
Joan is seriously screwed up and she can blame it on her mother as much as she wants, it was her own defiance that caused the majority of her issues. Not to mention the web of lies that she spread around to her loved ones. In the end, I’m not even sure she managed to fix herself either. I know not every book needs a happy ending, but and ending of some sorts would have been good.
I hate books where I end up asking more questions at the end than I do at the beginning. Who was leaving dead animals outside her door? What happened to Arthur? Were Marlene and Sam set free? What the hell did I just read?
One of the parts I enjoyed the most was the gothic period books that Joan wrote. I really wanted to find out what was going to happen to Charlotte, but even that ending was tainted by Arthur. At least I may have found a new genre that I’ll enjoy reading in the future.
Overall, it wasn’t terrible, but I probably won’t be picking up another Margaret Atwood book any time soon. I can’t deal with endings that don’t end properly.
on 24 January 2016
The early part of the story I found interesting. Joans' sad, unloved, and abusive childhood had me caring what became of Joan and hoping she would escape to a happy fulfilled life.
When Joan leaves home and meets one odd, unlikeable person after another, it was hard to keep reading. I found the story quite depressing as Joan went along with the scatterbrained plans of these oddballs she had conected with but mostly disagreed with.
I found the extracts of Joans novels amusing at first but there was so much repetition it became boring.
on 4 November 2015
This was my first Margaret Atwood and it could be my last, except that I am a keen reader and will probably have another go. The first part of the book held me and I enjoyed the quality of the writing. Joan's childhood and relationship with her mother rang true, a bit too close to my own for me to appreciate the reminder, but that's my problem. Once she left home I was lost. I didn't like her or anyone else and cared nothing for what happened to them. Ditto the trashy novel excerpts. Nevertheless I persevered, reading grimly on. Was I dim ? Had I no sense of humour ? Of fantasy ? What wasn't I getting ? I reached the end with feelings of relief. failure and a very slight sneaky liking for the Great Porcupine/ Chuck.