Title: The Edible Woman
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, feminism
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: All Marian McAlpin wants to be is normal. However, her recent engagement to her boring but respectable boyfriend hasn’t only upset her stable routine, it has also upset her stomach. She gradually loses appetite until she literally can’t eat anything anymore. Where she feels she should be consumed with passion, Marian simply just feels consumed, and she’s soon overcome by a serious identity crisis.
“For an instant she felt them, their identities, almost their substance, pass over her head like a wave. At some time she would be – or no, already she was like that too; she was one of them, her body the same, identical, merged with that other flesh that choked the air in the flowered room with its sweet organic scent; she felt suffocated by this thick sargasso-sea of femininity.”
– The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood
After two dystopian Atwood books this was quite a different reading experience! Slow-moving, somewhat boring, and pretty ordinary to begin with, “The Edible Woman” gradually heads down a route similar to Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” and explores consumerism, gender stereotypes, and alienation.
This is a book where I could hardly stand any of the characters at all but the characterizations are still brilliant. This novel was written in 1965 (published in 1969) and Atwood has described it as a protofeminist rather than a feminist work. This is definitely true when you consider how it discusses and critiques women’s societal role in the 1960s, for example in the case of Marian who is expected to quit her job because she is getting married, or how Marian’s family thought it was a risk for her as a woman to get a college education, or how Ainsley, Marian’s roommate, is planning to have a baby out of wedlock. It gives you a general impression of how ahead of its time this book actually was and I love that so much.
As mentioned I didn’t really like or relate to any of the characters in this book, not even the minor characters, which makes me think I probably wasn’t supposed to. This includes Marian; I didn’t like her passive personality, to begin with she was kind of frustrating and at times a bit too hysterical, but I eventually warmed up to her and towards the end I found myself rooting for her. She was honestly the only character that underwent some kind of positive development. Ainsley was really something else and actually quite terrible come to think of it, although I have to admit I was thoroughly entertained by her behavior and antics. I have to say that I really disliked Duncan though; I understand he was there to push Marian and represent some kind of reality for her, but most of the time he just came off as a cold, pretentious jerk. I absolutely couldn’t stand him. That said, there is a variety of odd, distant, manipulative, sexist characters to be found in this book and Atwood does a great job at writing them in settings and surroundings that compliment their roles, and this I can appreciate.
One of my favorite things about this book is the way it describes Marian’s gradual detachment from the safe consumerist world she lives and works in. She slowly enters an identity crisis that keeps spiraling out of control. The food metaphors that are expertly scattered through Atwood’s smooth writing just add to the overall effect and makes Marian’s condition much more pronounced. I also really enjoyed the switching of PoVs midway from first person to third person. This shows how Marian has reached a crucial point of mental instability and how she is alienated from her world and herself.
“The Edible Woman” is in my opinion just as relevant today as it was back in the 60s. I think it still reads very well. Characters like the ones portrayed here still exist in modern society and we’re no strangers to consumerism, food, and wanting to live the perfect life. I can definitely recommend this book for its progressive and insightful thinking, and its clever and well-executed concept.