I have read many but by no means all of Margaret Atwood's novels over the years starting with The Handmaid's Tale (1985) which I studied at A Level in 1999 and followed by Alias Grace ( published in 1996) The Blind Assassin (2000) Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Penelopiad (2005). Of these The Handmaid's Tale probably remains my favourite with Oryx and Crake a close second.
I found Surfacing, written in 1972, a bit of a difficult experience. Set in Canada, a nameless protagonist travels back to her home town with her boyfriend Joe and friends Annie and David to locate her estranged father, who has purportedly gone missing. The group go out into the Canadian wilderness in order to search with some hiking, fishing and discussions along the way.
There is a clear feminist agenda in this novel, which, for 1972 is current and appropriate but reminded me somewhat of the problems I have had with older books when the "issues" are no longer current. The novels protagonist is a divorcee who has also deserted her child whom she refers to as "it", we never know the gender. For 1972 this is shocking, outrageous behaviour possibly making her despised by those who read her story. Of course, nowadays being divorced is much less of a social offence, though a woman leaving her child is still considered rather unnatural.
Far more clever to me was the character of David, whose appearance of being "right on" is a veneer beneath which lies an old school misogynist, only supportive of women's liberation when it suits his desires.
The novel has many nature, wilderness descriptive prose sections which in the end reminded me of David Vann's Legend Of A Suicide. The allusions to spiritual experience versus temporary insanity left me cold which is bizarre as I normally like that sort of thing. Atwood's second novel, you can see signs of what she will become in the next decade, but unfortunately for me I found it dated, unsubtle and occasionally boring.
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