Monday, April 26

Book Review: Surfacing

Title: Surfacing

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: 195

Summary: Powerful and in many ways frightening, Surfacing, Margaret Atwood's second novel, is one woman's haunting quest for her own self.

A nameless woman in her late twenties, the narrator travels to the island cabin in desolate northern Quebec were she spent her childhood to search for her missing father. In the course of a few painful days, the truth about her own life surfaces, the experience made all the more lonely by the company of three friends - her current lover and another couple - who are unaware of the process moving within her.

First published to international accaim in 1972, Surfacing helped established Atwood's stature as one of the most important writers of contemporary literature.

My Rating: 7.5/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: This book is difficult to review, partly because it was a challenging book to read. Don’t let the size of the book fool you, the book makes you’re mind stretch out and grab for answers, as you piece together what is happening to the main character and narrator (who is unnamed). Part of me understood the book, part of me didn’t. It is a book that needs to be read multiple times to fully understand it, but it was a good book, even with the difficulties I had with it.

One of the best aspects the book has is Atwood’s ability to make the reader want more. She only reveals little pieces of the secrets the character holds and the author holds on each page, so you are gripping the pages trying to understand what is going on in this complex novel. Part of me wants to say it is a play on civilization, what it is doing to itself (and has done in the past) and how we are destroying ourselves and each other on an emotional and psychological basis, along with the physical sense. And how humanity desperately tries to hold on to some sense of it self, and how some, grow inwards to avoid the harsh realities of the outside world but I’m still not entirely sure I got it. Which is both a good thing and bad thing about the book - you aren’t entirely sure you understood it all, but you enjoyed the point the author was making, assuming you figured out what the author was trying to tell you. Yes, it is one of those books. Atwood makes you think, which is what I love about her writing, her ability to tell you a story, and make you really think about what you’re reading and look for what you read in the real world. Either what could happen, what has happened or what is happening now, Atwood does a fantastic job at pulling in the happenings of the world and thrusting them at the reader.

The end really confused me on some levels. I can’t go into much detail because I’m unsure exactly what happened or why (and I don’t want to ruin anything for those who plan on reading the book.) And I only can guess on the reasons behind the ending. This is yet another book I think needs to be read in a book club, so you can get a bunch of different views and play on each others thoughts, and tries to understand everything. Overall I enjoyed the book, and was surprised of what I got out of it, but it did leave feeling that I didn’t quite fully understand it, which made me like it more.

Would I recommend it to read: This is a book I’d recommend to select readers, and would say you have to be in the right “mood” to read the book. This isn’t a book to pick up on a rainy day if you’re looking for something to snuggle up to. You don’t necessarily need to be in the mood to exercise you’re brain, but it isn’t a quick read. As for who, again I’d say if you like a challenge and trying something new go for it. But I know a lot of readers out there would likely get frustrated over it and give up.

What to read next: Edible Woman and in the Afterword (by Marie-Claire Blais) mentions Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. I haven't read Lord Jim, but Conrad is also a challenge to read.

Challenges: Read ‘n’ Review, Pages Read, 10/10 Challenge, 100+ Challenge, A - Z Challenge, Canadian Reading Challenge, RYOB Challenge


  1. How funny, I read this book very recently and have a review coming out later this week (hopefully!). I had exactly the same feeling as you about the ending, those being.... ???????? I have to admit that I didn't get it. But I still enjoyed the book. I hope you get a chance to check out my review when it comes up

  2. I know what you mean. Infact I've read more famous books which aren't really rainy day reads
    Facebook page
    Facebook page

  3. I need to read more Atwood, though I admit to not having heard of this book. It does sound as though it's rather confusing and that there is a lot to think about when reading it. Great review, Jules. I really want to try this one now and see if I might be able to make some sense of it, particularly the ending!

  4. Though I've read and loved her poetry I've avoided MA's novels for the very reasons you've mentioned. I didn't want to read a book that I'd need to mentally disect to enjoy. I think I'm finally at a point where I can commit more mental muscle to my reading choices, at least, your review of 'Surfacing' has me wanting to ...

  5. Becky - I will have to check your review out, and see what you said. Yes the ending was very huh?.

    Booklover - Yeah, sometimes that happens, but still glad I read the book.

    Zibilee - I'd recommend starting with the Handmaids Tale or Oryx and Crake, they're a lot better reads, and easier to follow. Also some of her best work IMO.

    Wanda - I've never really read her poetry. A few snippets in a collection of short stories. But I stick to her novels. If you do try her novels, as I said above The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake are pretty good books. Don't need to dissect them, and are enjoyable reads.