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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Surfacing (1972) by Margaret Atwood

Image result for young margaret atwood
Canadian poet-novelist Margaret Atwood as a young woman.
Book Review
Surfacing (1972)
 by Margaret Atwood

   Surfacing is Margaret Atwood's second novel.  Atwood started by writing poems in the 1960's, but it wasn't until the early 1970's that she emerged as a novelist.  She is notable not only for her beginnings as a poet, but also for her nationality, Canadian, where she is the most well-known native novelist in the country.   She is best know for her mid-career tour through speculative fiction.  Her novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which explicitly explores a future obsessed with reproduction, is one of the better known works of 1980's speculative fiction.  The Blind Assassin, published in 2000, won the Booker prize and was successful to the point where my copy of Surfacing has "Booker prize winning author of The Blind Assassin" written beneath her name on the cover.

 Surfacing doesn't have the speculative angle of The Handmaid's Tale or the dazzling historical meta fictional tack of The Blind Assassin.  Instead, it's a quiet work of regional (Canadian) fiction, that balances the personal concerns of her narrator (a youngish Canadian woman) with some larger issues about the relationship of Canada to America and women to men.   Once you learn that Atwood was a poet for nearly a decade before she turned to fiction, describing her prose as "poetic," but it seems safe to observe that she writes about the landscape, here a remote island in northern Quebec, with an eye towards timelessness.

  This is contrasted with the concerns of the main characters, the narrator, searching for her missing father, her partner and another couple, all of whom evince various degrees of anti-Americanism towards the sportsmen who are the main consumers of the wild life around them.  There isn't much in Surfacing, besides the quality of the writing itself, to mark Atwood out for what she became, but Surfacing is an enjoyable read, and not too long at under 200 pages.

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