April: Surfacing, Margaret Atwood

I know. It is May 16th. And here we are. I am so late! It was bound to happen at least once. I apologize! Now my book club is slightly out of wack. Sigh. And I even had the book read. I just didn’t get to the posting of the post. Or the writing of it. You get me.

Surfacing. I have a lot of thoughts. This book made me feel so smart. SO SMART. And I really want to hear everything you think about it.

First – If this is your very first Atwood, I’m sorry. This is a weird one to start with. So I hope it is not your first. If it is, go read Cat’s Eye. Or Alias Grace. (or Handmaids Tale) You’ll be like “ohhhh, I get it now.” Some of her books are practically beach reads, and some of her books need a whole class discussion. This one falls into category 2. Class is in session.

This book started off with me not knowing what the hell is going on. We’re in a small French-Canadian town. It is very scary-movie-esque. Only one real road in. Everyone is suspicious of strangers. What murder secrets could they be possibly hiding? And then we find out that the main character (Is her name Sarah? Am I making that up? It is almost never mentioned. I tried to find it and am having a super hard time. Maybe it is never said at all… that would be interesting.) is trying to find her dad who has been missing for quote awhile.

This is immediately a psychological thriller and has the vibe of a modern day noir. Everything is suspect, everything is hinting at some ominous threat. Should they go out to the island? I was screaming in my head “no, just leave, don’t do it.” Every mundane task (cooking fish, washing dishes, killing time with books and cards) is weighted so heavily it’s as if the boogy man is about to jump out of a closet.

And as the main character’s past is revealed there is a darkness there. A complication beyond a missing father, a dead mother, an absent brother. Drownings. Slipping. Distrust. And on and on. I kept thinking about how the book is also a modern day The Awakening. I immediately wanted to write a these about those two books and the conversation they are having about women, sexual threats, how pregnancy is a sexual threat, how having a child is a sexual threat.

The main character’s grip on reality sort of devolves as the book continues. Near the end I pretty much stop being clear as to what exactly is happening anymore. What is real? What is even real? And that’s the struggle with first person narrators. When they stop being reliable, the story goes bonkers. It was really well done. It succeeded in its task. But the ending was so unsatisfying for me. I wanted the main character to shed her skin and move on into the world being free. But I feel like the island trapped her in the end. It called her back and she gave into it. But! I always want everything wrapped up in a nice bow at the end of every book I read (even if the books I write don’t end that way). It doesn’t necessarily make the stories better. It’s just my impulse.

What did everyone think of this one?

This month is allegedly The Underground Railroad! But it is going to take me way more than 2 weeks to finish it. So I’ll aim for mid-June! Join me?

8 thoughts on “April: Surfacing, Margaret Atwood”

  1. I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who was like WTF IS GOING ON HERE 😉 But in a good way?

    This is the earliest Atwood I’ve read, and it was interesting to me how different her voice seems here. It almost seems more…Hemingway? I dunno. Somehow more influenced, more like it’s trying to “prove” something. But at the same time, very recognizably Atwood. It’s always interesting to me to see how a writer’s voice grows and changes over time.

    It was also interesting how VERY similar this plot was to Cat’s Eye. Obviously with differences, but a loooot of the same themes were present. And when you realize that Atwood grew up in a community very much like this… makes me wonder how much of her early books were working through some things.

    I actually liked the last quarter of the book the best (when things got REALLY WEIRD). And the ending…well, I wish I knew what she chose! But it also felt like a typical Atwood ender to me. She’s such a pro at these powerful, open-ended “what this can’t be the end!!” endings.

    I don’t think the main character ever gets a name! Which is interesting and VERY tricky to pull off.

    PS — I recently read Underground Railroad and OMG SO GOOD I CAN’T WAIT TO DISCUSS

      1. Mostly because of the library 😉 Underground Railroad has a loooooong wait, so when it finally came up, I was like “ok better read now…”

  2. This WAS my first Atwood, which you had mentioned would not be advisable, but I did it anyway. I definitely didn’t completely turn off from any future reading of hers because of it, but I’m relieved to hear that this one was a bit of an odd duck. I was 1000% like WTF reading almost every page. If it wasn’t for the book club, I would’ve stopped after the first chunk or so. While reading it, there were a lot of lines that I found myself re-reading because they were practically poetry. I don’t know how else to describe them but they were like standalone quote-worthy lines. Anyway, I was glad to have a kick in the pants to try an Atwood book, but I don’t see myself re-reading or recommending this any time soon 😉

    1. I’ve read quite a lot of Atwood, and this is definitely a bit different from the rest. I love what you said about her lines being practically poetry. The writing itself is beautiful, even if you have no idea at parts what is happening.

  3. I’ve only read her poetry, so I’ll go read Cat’s Eye. Curious…are you watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? What do you think?

  4. I’ve been saving this post until I finished the book, which I just did over the weekend. First of all, Margaret Atwood writes some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. She is a wizard. When I started this one, I wasn’t sure I could get past all the comma splices and enjoy myself, but eventually I did. It’s like everything happens so gradually that you feel like you’re slipping into madness right along with the narrator, and you know it’s crazy, but in another way it kind of makes sense? Until the very end, of course – at that point I was like…girl. And I don’t think her name is ever mentioned, which I didn’t realize until about 2/3 of the way in. Very clever, and fits in with the theme of losing oneself. Overall I really liked this – great pick!

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