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Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Surfacing (1972)

by Margaret Atwood

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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Surfacing was one of the first "adult" books that I read as a teenager in the early 1990s, and at the time, I loved it. Re-reading it at the age of 40 was quite a different experience, much like going back and listening to an album that once deeply resonated, only to find that the initial spark just isn't there anymore. That said, I do think that Surfacing would be an excellent addition to a college course on literature of the 1970s/environmentalist lit/feminist lit, as it remains a perfect encapsulation of those concerns as well as an eerie evocation of what can either be interpreted as an experiment in living "off the grid" or an extreme dissociative break (possibly fueled by some mushrooms that the unnamed narrator nibbles in the woods). Herein lies a major problem with the novel's climax: The narrator recovers too quickly from her experience for us to interpret it purely as a psychotic break, yet her behavior throughout much of the narrative points to a psychological disturbance that can't be entirely written off by her claims that she is simply returning to a more natural state of being. Considering that Atwood is experimenting with the device of the unreliable narrator who thus filters her narrative through a distorted lens of depression, ironic distance, and the once-popular trope of repressed memory (of special historic interest in the "Sybil" era of pop psychology when Surfacing was first published), the ending does work, but by the time it arrives, the reader may feel too baffled and manipulated to care. Unlike most of Atwood's novels, Surfacing lacks her characteristic sense of humor (again, in keeping with the narrator's depressive state). However, the aphorisms that pepper the book too often come across as smug and facile, as does the narrator's hatred of Americans, city life, and relationships. In a sense, Atwood has painted herself into a corner by almost too convincingly portraying a woman whose admirable qualities have been so blunted by what may or may not have happened to her in the past that she now seems like a husk. Even when she reanimates by going into the forest, you can't help wishing that that this strange, rich transformation were happening to someone else. If possible, her three companions are even more unpleasant; this isn't necessarily a problem (Patricia Highsmith successfully juggled unlikeable, even murderous, characters in her novels), but shipwrecking four nasty "Me Generation" cohorts on an island is a gamble that doesn't pay off for Atwood. As a poet, though, she defines a sense of place so indelibly that I felt as if I were in this remote Canadian wilderness, watching the herons soar across the lake, picking withered raspberries off the vine, crouching behind bushes in a paranoid state whenever motorboats cut through the water. Surfacing does have its achievements, and if it ultimately fails as a convincing depiction of radical transformation, it does show a writer willing to poke at the decaying matter under the leaf pile to see what might shine. ( )
  coltonium | Aug 21, 2015 |
Surfacing is one of the darkest books I've ever read. Watching the unnamed main character regress from a functioning member of society to a hallucinating animal is both fascinating and horrifying. I absolutely love [a:Margaret Atwood|3472|Margaret Atwood|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1282859073p2/3472.jpg] and I really enjoyed this book.

I just can not get past the almost cheesy happy ending. It felt way to forced to me and did not fit into the style of the book. ( )
  momma182 | Jun 23, 2015 |
Well, it took until my seventh book by Atwood to finally find one I didn't like. [Surfacing] is the story of a young woman who goes to her father's backwoods cabin with three friends to try to find her father, who is reported missing. The interactions between the two couples and the woman's struggles to keep a grip on reality make up the bulk of the book. Actually, the best part was probably the descriptions of life out in the woods without a lot of gear.

I found that in the last third of the book, the plot moved too quickly into territory I hadn't really been prepared for and found the main character's actions a little unbelievable.

I don't think Atwood could write a bad book, but this one didn't meet the standards I have for her. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 21, 2015 |
I loved this book, but I can see how not everyone will enjoy it. Describing it as "part detective novel, part psychological thriller" feels like a stretch and doesn't capture the essence of the story. This book is a journey. It's the main character figuring out life. It isn't necessarily the events that take place; it's more about the character's mindset as she tries to put her life together.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this book. The writing is amazing as always with Atwood and the descriptions really get you thinking. The first person narrative has you questioning what is real and the bias of one's own experience. Beautiful, beautiful work. A thought-provoking puzzle that holds you to the end. ( )
  CareBear36 | Apr 8, 2015 |
"Surfacing" is definitely not my favorite by Margaret Atwood. The story overall felt choppy to me -- there were bits that I really liked, but there were also stretches that I just found tedious.

The story centers on a woman who returns to her backwoods home in Quebec after learning her long-ago abandoned father has disappeared. What's real and what is not isn't really well-defined here. By the time I got to the end, I was asking myself "Wait, what just happened?" I didn't feel like there was enough of a lead-up to the ending for it to feel realistic. ( )
  amerynth | Aug 5, 2014 |
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I can't believe I'm on this road again, twisting along past the lake where the white birches are dying, the disease is spreading up from the south, and I notice they now have sea-planes for hire.
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Book description
Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385491050, Paperback)

Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec.  Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices.  Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose.  Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented...and becoming whole.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:20 -0400)

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A woman searching for her missing father travels with her lover and another couple to a remote island in northern Quebec, where they encounter violence and death.

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