Keeping this one (fairly) short and sweet … maybe. Let me start off by saying that Margaret Atwood is a beautiful writer. Every sentence reads like poetry. This is the third book I’ve read by her (actually the fifth since one was a trilogy) and although I didn’t enjoy it—gasp—once again I’m captivated by her way with words. I guess it’s only natural for someone who’s been writing for decades. Go Margaret!
Now, onto the story and my disappointing review. To be fair, this is one of her earlier works and I don’t think it reflects on her more recent writings. In short, the novel is about a Canadian woman who’s father goes missing. She, her “boyfriend” and another couple (Anna and David) go visit her childhood home for a short while in hopes of finding him. There’s really not much else to tell! Spoiler alert: Her father is most likely dead, although she refuses to admit it. The entire story basically becomes her descent into madness—think Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Her friends are assholes. The group’s stay seems like they’re on Spring Break in Mexico rather than supporting a friend in need. They show little to no concern for the unnamed main character from the very first page. No wonder she went nuts! Although, one could argue that she was nuts to begin with as she is an absolutely unreliable narrator. Her backstory of leaving her husband and child drastically changes to being part of an affair which forced her to have an abortion. Two very different things here!
One of the recurring themes in Surfacing is how the men mentally abuse and objectify women. David is a detestable womanizer who not only demands that his wife wear makeup everyday (what a *YOUKNOWWHAT*) but also tries to sleep with the narrator. Joe is a complete tool who randomly proposes to our narrator despite the absence of any verbalized love between them in the time that they have been together. He does this also despite the fact that he has no reason for wanting to marry her other than “it makes sense.” Atwood is definitely speaking to the despicable way women are viewed and treated in society. This is something our narrator picks up on as well. She sees how love and marriage are simply words and procedures, the women merely fixtures in their relationships without being valued as equals. It contributes to her later madness when she chooses to live like an animal (literally) rather than to conform to society’s accepted position for women. In this way, she can become a part of the society in which she felt alienated from before—except this time, on her terms.
Overall, this was an interesting read, but definitely not my favorite (despite the lovely writing). I know if I truly liked it, I would take the time to watch and compare the 1981 film version. I have zero intention or desire to do so. =/
On a side note, I was a huge fan of Atwood’s more recent (2004ish?) Maddaddam trilogy and HIGHLY recommend that instead. If you’re into the post-apocalyptic thing, it is definitely entertaining and very unlike any other work in its genre. I couldn’t put it down. As a bonus, HBO is rumored to have picked it up for a series. :: cue squeals of delight ::