I have read Oryx and Crake earlier this year and I could not resist the pull of Margaret Atwood. I saw a tattered paperback smiling at me from a charity window, £1 for a great classic. I paid the price and I got back more than I bargained for. Witty, funny, deeply cutting, a book about a modern woman of the 21st century living in the 60’s – when the morals were a lot stricter and the definition of a woman was who she was married to.
While reading, I had to constantly remind myself this was written in the 60’s, too advanced for the hippie movement and too retro for the disco age. It should have been called “The lost woman” or the maybe “How I found myself” as the story centers a woman who is losing her centre of self after being proposed to by her long term boyfriend. She is looking at her dead-end job, surrounded by women who are either married or virgins, with no means to advance other than the death of her supervisor.
She is a rare woman who has gone to university, got herself educated, saw the world open up before her for the taking and then close itself up again as no means to conquer were presented.
“What else can I do? Once you’ve gone this far you aren’t fit for anything else. Something happens to your mind. You’re overqualified, overspecialized, and everybody knows it. Nobody in any other game would be crazy enough to hire me. I wouldn’t even make a good ditch-digger, I’d start tearing apart the sewer-system, trying to pick-axe and unearth all those chthonic symbols – pipes, valves, cloacal conduits… No, no. I’ll have to be a slave in the paper-mines for all time.”
She has two female friends, opposites by nature – one is a calculating free spirit whose only desire is to get pregnant (and do this by breaking the rules of society as perceived by the old lady downstairs) without getting a man to marry her, – the other is a college graduate who got married and had child after child after child, a bit loose, drifting purposeless through life, letting her beloved do all the house work.
With these two role models and one more in the form of a single old lady raising a child (“Think of what the child would think!”), she finds herself oddly attracted to a man, a boy studying for finals.
She is engaged to be married but instead of spending time with her new fiancee, she keeps coming back to the boy, like a moth attracted to the flame.
And as she denies herself the idea of her married, she also denies herself food.
She cannot stomach food anymore. She stops eating meat because she can see the pain of the animals who died. She over visualizes what she is putting in her mouth and then rejecting logically (and sometimes illogically) the ingested food. As she is loosing her appetite and starts diminishing in size, she suddenly has a vision of herself disappearing. Of her not being anything.
A decoration to a man. An ornament in the house. Her in a red dress watching from the distance as the world seems to move without noticing her.
This is when she takes action and runs off to the only man who did not promise her anything. She sleeps with him (I had the feeling that it was quite bad for both) and returns home in the morning.
While she is debating what to tell her angry boyfriend/fiancee, she starts making a cake.
A cake of herself, filled with underwear and a dress, and a hair piece made of butter cream.
She asks him to take a bite of “her”. To eat her cake meant that he would accept her as who she was. She would be in him as he would be in her. They would have been one.
He does not get it. No man – except those of a specific stand or form – would get it.
And when he runs out of the apartment where she was living, terrified of her, of what she had become, she gets her appetite back. And she eats the cake.
“That’s what you get for being food.”
Score: 5/5. I could not put it down. A must read for any woman – and not only.