Surfacing By Margaret Atwood: Book Review

Posted on September 19, 2012

By Indrani Chanda:

Margaret Atwood is often acknowledged as a Canadian author, novelist, poet, literary critic and essayist. She was awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature. She has won the Booker prize once and the Governor General’s Award twice. Her writings have grounded a new place in Canadian literature. Some of her great works are ‘The Edible Woman’, ‘Surfacing’, ‘Lady Oracle‘ and ‘Cat’s eye‘.

Although I have not yet been acquainted with all the works of Atwood, I did recently manage to read “Surfacing”(1972) which has left a tremendous and deep impact on my mind and thoughts. It is a long novel, set in the Canadian wilderness in Northern Quebec. It is the story of an unnamed female narrator who goes back to her family home in search of her missing father. This search also equates with her inner search for who she is and that of her inner power.

The events of this novel take place over two weeks and we can find subtle shifts of incidents happening during that period of time. The narrator goes back to her family with her boyfriend and her friends. The encroachment of British culture and the American society landed a deep effect upon Canada when it itself wanted to emerge as a self-dependent country. Descriptions of rural Canada and its industrialization and commercialization are there in this novel and run parallel to the descriptions of the narrator.

Atwood has used first person narrative and stream-of-consciousness technique that makes the novel a unique and great read. The descriptions of nature further enhance the beauty of the novel. It has been pointed out that the narrator wanted to return to the primitive life and as the story proceeds we also get information about the narrator’s marriage, her abortion and her divorce. The memories of her past mark a sharp break in the story.

Atwood also envelops some ideas of feminism in this novel and feminism was in its development stage at that time. The anonymity of the narrator is also an important issue in this perspective. It may be said that she is representing the whole female community. At the end of the novel, we find that the narrator goes nude in order to unite herself with the nature, to return to the primitive lifestyle. Although she went back to the city after spending seven days in the wilderness, she regains her lost power and her identity as a woman by virtue of her return.

The book is a sensitive one that entails issues like feminism, sex, motherhood, relationships, civilization and savagery. The woman ultimately surfaces out from various complexities and finds her identity and her father’s too. Atwood has done a great job with this novel of hers. It is a uniformly comprised and instructive novel that I find worth reading and would suggest everyone to lay their hands on.