Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood was published in 1972. It begins with four people travelling by car to Quebec. Our protagonist is never named. There are her friends, Anna and David who are married and Joe who is the protagonists’ boyfriend.

In the first couple of chapters we know that they are going to the protagonist's childhood home. She hasn’t been there in a very long time and seems estranged from her family. There is foreshadowing about her father and about a parallel life or two lives. The reader is given snippets of the protagonist’s past and some of her memories. From this we know that her mother has died and that she has a brother. She also tells us that she has been married before and that she had a baby.

When they arrive, we meet the protagonist’s neighbours and learn that her father has gone missing. They are taken to her family’s remote cabin on an island to spend a few days there, in hopes of finding her father. After a couple of days, the group decides to stay longer and make a vacation out of it. The majority of the story happens on this island in and around the cabin.

There is something mysterious about the main character. She seems to have no emotions. There is tension within her of wanting to be on her own, but also being grateful that she has people with her. She notices all of the changes that have taken place since the last time she was there. We do know that she’s had a good childhood, but being back she begins to remember some things.

Joe, is her boyfriend who I can’t say I was enamoured with, but he did surprise me a little at the end.

The couple, David and Anna were really messed up. They put a front on that they were very much in love and had a perfect marriage, but it’s all for show. I detested David. I didn't care for the way he talked about women, he seemed entitled and he kept calling people he didn’t like facsist pig yanks or Americans. At first this was weird to me, but after thinking about it, I realized that this book was published when the Vietnam war was going on so it might come from those tensions as Canadians played a very different role than the US in that war.

Anna seems to be someone who just goes along with everything and doesn’t want to rock the boat. She also helps put the book in context. One example is when she asks the protagonist if she is on the pill. The main character thinks this is such a personal question and is a bit offended. It was a reminder that the pill was maybe 10 years old when this first came out and probably still had a lot of controversy around it. Together Anna and David were also an example of marriage and what the expectations were, especially for women.

For me the cabin and lake are also characters in a way and I think this is a comfortable setting for Atwood since she lived her childhood in the bush and in the city so I think there might be some significance in these settings for her.

The novel had many themes such as societal expectations or norms, marriage, divorce, motherhood, identity, religion, death and of course, the idea of surfacing.

Overall, for me this story is about believing what we want to believe and telling stories to ourselves and others in order to be accepted or because we have been taught that it’s normal. It’s also about finding our own identity and being honest with ourselves so that we can truly live an authentic life.

There are a couple of loose ends for me with regard to the main character's father. I wish I had more back story on him. I know he’s not the main character and it’s not his story but there just seemed to be something missing for me.

Overall, I really liked this novel. there are some profound messages and themes that I think are still relevant today.

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛

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