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The Sunday Salon: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

The Sunday Salon.com I am happy to report that I finally got over the reading slump I wrote about last Sunday, and actually finished three books this week:

I have some thoughts on all of them, so they’ll be getting their own reviews sometime in the next couple of weeks. I’m only five reviews behind so far this year (four, after I finish this post!), so the wait won’t be too long.

Despite finally getting over my slump, I probably won’t get a lot of reading done today. My book club is meeting to discuss The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, and then right after that boyfriend and I are heading to our wine tasting group. It should be a fun day, even without a lot of reading.

I’m not sure exactly what to say about The Edible Woman, so I thought maybe blogging about it pre-book club might help clarify my thoughts. The book was written in 1969, and is about a young woman named Marian. Here’s the plot summary, from IndieBound:

Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can’t eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds–everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she’s being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion, but she really just feels…consumed. A brilliant and powerful work rich in irony and metaphor, The Edible Woman is an unforgettable masterpiece by a true master of contemporary literary fiction.

I do know that I loved this book, much in the way that I love everything I’ve read by Margaret Atwood. I read her books because I enjoy her writing, and because I know there are levels of meaning and going on that I’m not aware or right away. They are books that make me want to think more, which is one of my favorite things about reading.

What I don’t know is quite what Atwood was trying to say with the novel, because there is a lot going on! The main character of the book is Marian, who works at a market research firm and has a boring but dependable boyfriend named Peter. She lives in Toronto with her roommate, Ainsley, a sort of nutty feminist, and keeps in contact with a college friend, Clara, who is now a perpetually pregnant housewife.

I think Marian has a sense her life isn’t what she wants it to be, but also what she “should” do, so agrees to marry Peter even when I’m not sure she wants to. After this, she goes from being an active, independent girl to being very passive. Peter’s personality, which calls for a very traditional sort of lifestyle, starts to take over their relationship as Marian continues to withdraw. This is also when her problems with food start.

I think the book mostly tries to explore the idea of identity — how do characters find one, and how do they protect their identity from being taken over by others? And then, what is the role characters like Peter have in forcing Marian to change her identity, and how does Marian respond? There is also obviously a lot about gender roles, contrasting Marian with the other women in her life, and Marian trying to decide what role she feels comfortable taking in her relationship with Peter.

You know, I feel like I’m just rambling right now. Suffice it to say, The Edible Woman was another great book from Margaret Atwood, full of wry sentences and lots of layers of meaning that I am excited to unpack with the lovely ladies of my book club this afternoon, even if I’m still trying to unpack it myself.

Rating: ★★★★½

What are your plans for Sunday? Thoughts on The Edible Woman or the amazing Margaret Atwood in general? What kinds of books do you love discussing with a book club?

P.S. I finally started reading War and Peace last night. I just got through the introduction and the first chapter, but the challenge with books like that one, for me, is just getting started. Yay!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kailana February 20, 2011, 12:03 pm

    I really must read more Atwood! Sometimes I love her, but other times her books don’t really work for me. I hope you have a great day!

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:19 pm

      Kailana: I haven’t had any Atwood that hasn’t worked for me, but I’m suppose I will at some point. I just keep collecting more of her books to add to my shelf.

  • Belle Wong February 20, 2011, 12:06 pm

    The Edible Woman was on my course list for the Canadian lit course I took in university way back when, and I’m very sorry to say, I must have read it but I don’t remember it at all. And now that I’ve read your post, I’m adding it to my TBR list.

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:20 pm

      Belle: I thought it was a very good book — funny, smart, and some good commentary on early feminism. It reads really fast, so I hope you get a chance to read it!

  • Ash February 20, 2011, 12:53 pm

    I’ve only read one book by Margaret Atwood and I adored it. I’ve often thought about reading more of her books, but it just never seems to happen. I don’t ever buy them even. That is a goal for 2011: Read one Margaret Atwood book.

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:21 pm

      Ash: Yes, good goal! I always buy them when I find them — I have four sitting on my shelf right now. Let me know which one you end up picking and maybe I can read it too.

  • Diane@BibliophileBytheSea February 20, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I read this over 5 years ago, but I do recall loving it. Atwood is an amazing writer IMO. Nice review Kim.

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:22 pm

      Diane: She is amazing, and an excellent writer.

  • Bex February 20, 2011, 2:44 pm

    I really love Margaret Atwood. Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale in particular were amazing! I’m sure i’ve read this, but i’m struggling to remember it. Maybe time for a revisit…

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:23 pm

      Bex: I haven’t read Alias Grace, but it’s on my shelf right now. I’ve heard that one was excellent.

  • Aarti February 20, 2011, 5:48 pm

    What an interesting premise for a book! I know that feeling very well- finishing a book and really enjoying it, but having NO IDEA at the end what it was actually about! Glad you have that feeling, too.

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:24 pm

      Aarti: It was an interesting premise. I like the way she connected consumption with the idea of a personality being consumed. It was really interesting.

    • rob February 27, 2011, 3:03 pm

      I had the same experience when I read the book. I really liked it but had no idea what it was about. Atwood always has such convoluted themes and one wonders if her ascriptions to the human condition accurately describe the particular groups of people which she writes about.

      • Kim March 1, 2011, 6:35 pm

        rob: I haven’t found her descriptions of people and the human condition to be inaccurate, but I do think there are a lot of things going on in her books.

  • Florinda February 20, 2011, 9:12 pm

    I haven’t read this Atwood, but while playing vulture at a store-closing sale at a nearby Borders today, I did pick up Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, and a current-events discussion on Facebook firmed up my intention to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale this year.

    Oh, and I also bought The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down at that Borders today – thought of you :-).

    • Kim February 21, 2011, 3:25 pm

      Florinda: I just bought copies of those two, as well. I am looking forward to them — someone recently said Year of the Flood was amazing. And yay, I love that book!

  • Shann April 24, 2011, 11:45 am

    Her books that make me laugh are my favorite. Lady Oracle is one of them. I enjoy her older books and poetry dealing with relationships. Power Politics is my favorite volume of poetry and was my mantra when dealing with douche bag college boys back in the 90’s.

    • Kim April 24, 2011, 4:28 pm

      Shann: Thanks for the recommendations — I haven’t read Lady Oracle, but I do think Atwood has a pretty wry sense of humor in many of her other books.