Margaret Atwood – Lady Oracle Book Review

Why did every one of my fantasies turn into a trap?

Ms Foster has a secret identity. She has a nom-de-plume of Lousie DeLacourt and is known for writing trashy novels for the bored housewives of the world called Costume Gothics. The kisses are always chaste, the women always nearly escape from rape and murder and their caped hero is always there to rescue them.

She, herself, needs some escaping – from both a life as a unhappy housewife and also from a jealous lover and a count who turns up across the ocean to take her back to her subdued mistress role in England. Sounds like a good story! And it is!

This is one among the first books that Margaret Atwood wrote, closely after The Edible Woman.

Title: Lady Oracle
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Dimensions: 345 pages, 6.88 × 3.98 × 1.21 in
Published: March 26, 1999

Every myth is a version of the truth

And Joan Foster begins her tale with how she faked her murder and ran away to Italy. Sounds like Gone Girl right here! She looks back on her life and her choices that brought her to this specific point in her life and we get to grow up with her in a house where the mother was never happy, where the father was mostly absent and where a kind-hearted aunt would come in and help entertain the girl. The girl Joan used food as a form of punishment, of rebellion. She gorged on everything she could find, she grew to enormous proportions and loved to ignore any hint of weight loss or other catalogues left behind by her mother.

“In my experience, honesty and expressing your feelings could only lead to one thing: disaster” her aunt Lou passes away, she leaves behind a small inheritance for Joan with the condition that she would lose weight. A lot of it. Joan takes it as an offence at first – her partner in all the lovely times in her childhood is no longer around her and in her will she feels criticised for her weight. She goes on to loose it with anything she can do. She starves herself, drinks weight-loss pills, worries her mother again who now leaves cakes lying around the house to encourage her to eat again. In a heated argument, her mother picks up the knife and lightly stabs her in her arm. She runs away afterwards and goes to England.

I wanted to forget the past, but it refused to forget me; it waited for sleep, then cornered me.”

She quickly finds out two things: She has no viable skills to help her find suitable employment and after her sudden weight loss, she suddenly starts attracting male attention. She bumps into an older man, a Polish count who escaped the Nazis and who made a living by writing trashy novels with Nurses as main characters. Joan quickly ponders that no real nurses would ever have the time and patience to read such books but that women will always look for ways to escape in a fantasy world and maybe, just maybe, she can help.

She unwillingly becomes the count’s mistress and then gets resigned to this role. She can eat caviar from a tin and can write in her spare time. She soon starts earning more money than the count who took her in and he starts getting jealous and petty. She runs away when he threatens he will lock her in the house.

I believed in true loved, he believed in wives and mistresses, I believed in happy endings, he, in cataclysmic ones.

She goes to live with Arthur, a guy who was spreading flyers on the street about different causes he was interested in. One day she gets a surprise visit: her mother, crying, sitting in the middle of the living room! It was only a ghost and soon he gets a telegram from her father telling her that her mother had died.

She goes back to Canada, continues writing trashy novels and marries Arthur in a non-denominational ceremony.

“For true happiness, you must approach life with a feeling of reverence. Reverence for life, for those loved ones who are still with us and also for those who have gone before. Remember that all we do and all that is in our hearts is watched and recorded, and will someday be brought to light. Avoid deception and falsehood; treat your lives as a diary you are writing and that you know your loved one will someday read, if not here on this side, then on the other side where all the final reconciliations will take place.

Above all, you should love each other for what you are and forgive each other for what you are not. You have a beautiful aura, my children, you must work to preserve it.”

Her life is oddly domestic and the only adventure comes from secretly putting out novel after novel after novel. She studies her competition and decides to introduce a bit of supernatural in her books. For this, she goes into an induced trance-like state where she imagines going down a labyrinth holding a candle. This is a descent into her subconscious and upon her return she finds odd words scribbled on a piece of paper with a writing that was not like her own.

“She sits on the iron throne
She is one and three
The dark lady
the redgold lady
The blank lady
of blood, she who must be
Her glass wings are gone
She floats down the river
singing her last song”

She decides to try to sell the new poetry that came out and she finds a publishing house that was absolutely in love with it. She gets published, she has interviews lined up for her and a bright new future. Arthur, her husband, is not so thrilled. He feels cheated that she didn’t tell him about this book (he still has no ideas about the others) and thinks that the poem is about him.

We see Joan who now starts keeping even more secrets, can’t seem to reconcile her relationship with Arthur and starts a new one with an artist. Cheating couples and minor tragedies galore. Her relationship with the artist gets discovered (well after it’s ended) by a scummy journalist who was thinking about blackmailing her into sharing 20% of her profits with him.. She then decides to stage her disappearance with the help of two friends and run away to Italy, at the same time inventing a new persona for herself.

759361._UY200_.jpgThe book features leery men, grabby hands, unhappy marriages and at least one affair that makes all Margaret Atwood such great sales for women all over the world. You don’t have to write cheesy rom-com novels featuring half-naked men on the covers, it’s enough to write about the failings too and the women will gather to read and commiserate.

“Love was merely a tool, smiles were another tool, they were both just tools for accomplishing certain ends. No magic, merely chemicals. I felt I’d never really loved anyone, not Paul, not Chuck the Royal Porcupine, not even Arthur. I’d polished them with my love and expected them to shine, brightly enough to return my own reflection, enhanced and sparkling.” 

The book acts like a maze and the book within the book that Joan was writing sometimes mingles fantasy with reality. Guess what lies at the center of the maze? Herself and the discovery that if she wanted to continue her marriage, she would have to die.

“Who are you?”

“We are Lady Redmond”, said the middle aged woman sadly. “All of us”, the fat woman with the wings added.”

“There must be some mistake”, Felicia protested. “I, myself am Lady Redmond”

“Oh, yes, we know”, said the first woman. “But every man has more than one wife. Sometimes all at once, sometimes one at a time, sometimes ones he doesn’t even know about”.

Then she knew. Redmond was the killer. He was a killer in disguise, he wanted to murder her as he had murdered his other wives… Then she would always have to stay here with them, at the center of the maze… He wanted to replace her with the other one, the next one, thin and flawless..”

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