18 February 2021

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

I don't really know why, but for some reason I find Margaret Atwood novels extremely comforting. So far I have only read Cat's Eye, The Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, and now The Edible Woman. But whenever I crave a "real" novel, I somehow always end up wanting one of hers. Atwood is so prolific and has such a giant bibliography that it's super easy to pick her stuff up at used bookstores. I bought The Edible Women on a whim and its sat on my bookshelf for years. The plot is briefly mentioned in Jana Casale's The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky (which I reviewed here) and I knew it had to be my next read.

The Edible Woman is simply described as the story of Marian, a young woman who stops being able to eat once she gets engaged. For some reason I am really drawn to books about psychosomatic symptoms (The Vegetarian, Desperate Characters) and so I really enjoyed Atwood's take on it. 

The next morning, however, when she opened her soft-boiled egg and saw the yolk looking up at her with its one significant and accusing yellow eye, she found her mouth closing together like a frightened sea anemone. It's living; it's alive, the muscles in her throat said, and tightened." 

I also really enjoy reading Atwood because so many of her books are set in Canada, and usually Toronto. I've only spent a handful amount of time in Toronto, but she writes it in a way that feels so recognizable. Characters stop at the Eaton Center, take the subway, and live in crammed little apartments. I love that a lot of her female leads are weirdly passive, but also not? I can't really explain.

The wikipedia page for this book is strangely detailed, and apparently in a foreword Atwood wrote for a certain edition she called it a "proto-feminist" book. There are characters that stick to their gender stereotypes, like Marian's fiance Peter. He is determined to get married like the rest of his friends, buy a house, and have children. Marian's roommate, Ainsley, is kind of the opposite. She wants to raise a child on her own and avoid marriage completely. 

Marian is kind of torn between two male figures in her life. I already mentioned Peter, so the "chaotic" force in her life comes from Duncan, a man she meets while working. Marian and Duncan keep running into each other in a way that feels almost "beyond their control." They start to have an affair which complicated Marian's decision to marry Peter even further. 

Marian's inability to eat is gradual, and is paired with some more erratic behaviour. My favourite scene was when she was at Peter's with some other guests. She starts to slowly push herself between the wall and the futon she was sitting on, eventually ending up completely under it. She then takes off at a full sprint into the night, with Peter and Len (an old friend) chasing after her.

Don't ask me, that's your problem. It does look as though you ought to do something: self-laceration in a vacuum eventually gets rather boring. But it's your own personal cul-de-sac, you invented it, you'll have to think of your own way out."

This book isn't science-fiction heavy like some of Atwood's other work. It also isn't dystopian. No matter what year Atwood writes in, I find her prose so plainly laid out and easy to read. Similar to Alias Grace, I found there was a lot of humour in The Edible Woman. One of my favourite lines was an insult Len makes to Marian and Ainsley:

'All you clawed scaly bloody predatory whoring fucking bitches can go straight to hell! All of you! Underneath you're all the same!' he shouted, with, Marian thought, rather good enunciation."

When I read this I had no idea it was Atwood's first novel, published in 1969. It made me want to order every single thing she has even written straight to my door. So I would definitely recommend any Canadian-lit fans check this one out! 

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