Book reviews


Trying to understand what was going on in Margaret Atwood’s second novel, Surfacing, was a little bit like being underwater with your eyes open and trying to figure out what was going on out of the water. I suspect that was the author’s intention.

The story is set in Canada. The narrator, an un-named young woman, returns to her family home, a cabin on a remote island, to search for her missing father. She is accompanied by her lover and a married couple, all of whom she has met very recently.

The writing in Surfacing is good, particularly the author’s choice of words, although some parts are in my least favourite style; present-tense. My biggest problem was not likeing the plot. I also struggled to connect with the narrator and I didn’t like the other main characters, although to be fair, I don’t think the author’s intention was to create likeable characters. Superficially the character’s relationships with each other are swinging and cool, (Surfacing was written during the late 1960’s or early 1970’s), but beneath the surface, they hold grudges and judge each other and themselves. There are undercurrents everywhere.

Canadian nationalism is an important theme, but the characters’ struggles with this went over my head, although I suspect Canadian readers would ‘get’ this book.

The remoteness of the location, which requires locals to be almost complete self-sufficient, is intriguing.

Despite not appreciating Surfacing as much as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Heart Goes Last, I’m looking forward to working through her novels in chronological order, since I love Margaret Atwood’s fearlessness in writing the madder dystopian novels which she is best known for.


Comments on: "Surfacing by Margaret Atwood" (3)

  1. I remember reading this and quite liking it. It stays in my head as the only one of her books that I vaguely liked. Attwood is such an important author that I feel I ought to read all her books – and like them. But I don’t! I did reread The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year: I appreciated it more than when I first read it but I can’t say that I enjoyed it. I think she is one with whom I’m destined never to connect 🙂

    • Yes, she is an important author. I rate books on how memorable they are and the plot of The Handmaid’s Tale has been stuck in my head for years. I prefer the more dystopian books she has written, but Surfacing was early in her career so it will be interesting to watch that style emerge in her writing.

      • I also set a lot of store by how memorable books are, and the plot of The Handmaid’s Tale has stayed with me for years too. Yet I remembered very little of the plot of Surfacing – only that I quite liked it. Interesting. I dislike dystopian novels, which obviously doesn’t help.

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