The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood wrote The Edible Woman in 1965, but it didn’t get published until 1969 because the publisher had misplaced the manuscript. This would be her debut novel and it would be her introduction of prose to the world, as all of her other published works had been poetry up until this point. The Edible Woman is a novel I read over 20 years ago, but I didn't remember much about it.

The book is divided into three parts. The first and last part are written in first person. The second part is written in third person. I think this is done to show how Marian, the main character kind of loses herself and then finds herself again. I love how Atwood uses food and eating images throughout the book and even the word cannibalism is used several times. I had also forgotten that the book has some funny scenes and is quite witty. Some of my favourite scenes are when toilet training is being described.

The main character is Marian McAlpin. She works at Seymour Surveys which is a marketing research company. Several people surround Marian. Her roommate Ainsley who works for an electric toothbrush company. She wants to have a baby but she doesn't want to get married so her plan is to manipulate a man of her choosing to be the father. Marian's friends Clara and Joe are a married couple with two children and one on the way. Marian is dating a man named Peter and there are three co-workers that are collectively referred to as the office virgins. There’s also 'the woman below' who is the owner of the house Marian and Ainsley live in. They are on the top floor and the owner lives below them. There is also Duncan, an interesting character, who Marian meets when she is doing a survey. Duncan has two roommates. And finally there is Len, a notorious womanizer and university friend of Clara and Marian’s.

Through this cast of characters, there are many themes that are part of the novel. I think the biggest one is society's ideals of marriage, parenting and gender roles in general and gender roles in the workplace in particular. Each character has their own perception and thoughts around these topics and each one wants to live out these expectations in different ways.

Some other themes are consumerism and finally, Marian's relationship with food. Atwood uses a lot of words to describe food, eating and being hungry, but after Marian and Peter are engaged Marian slowly stops eating certain foods and then words of invisibility and detachment are used. Marian slowly feels like she is being disconnected from reality.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There’s a lot of depth to it, especially for a debut novel. I think it's written well and for a novel that was originally published over thirty years ago the themes are still relevant today. A sign of a good writer!

Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛

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