Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood


The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood


Marian has a problem. A willing member of the consumer society in which she lives, she suddenly finds herself identifying with the things being consumed. She can cope with her tidy-minded fiancé, Peter, who likes shooting rabbits. She can cope with her job in market research, and the antics of her roommate. She can even cope with Duncan, a graduate student who seems to prefer laundromats to women. But not being able to eat is a different matter. Steak was the first to go. Then lamb, pork, and the rest. Next came her incapacity to face an egg. Vegetables were the final straw. But Marian has her reasons, and what happens next provides an unusual solution.



Review: I’ve read almost all of Margaret Atwood’s fiction, but I kept putting this book off because the synopsis sounds . . . weird. Like, what even is this book about? People who kill rabbits, go to the laundromat, and don’t eat? It all sounded unbearably quirky to me.

Turns out, the book is about a lot of things. It’s about consumer culture and the expectations that society has for young people. It’s about mental illness and feeling trapped. It’s about a group of twenty-somethings in 1960s Canada who are too paralyzed by fear to take the next step in their lives.


"The human mind was the last thing to be commercialized but they’re doing a good job of it now" – The Edible Woman



The story centers on Marian, a recent college graduate who has a job doing market research. She’s not happy with her life, but she’s not unhappy, either. Then her boyfriend proposes, and her life starts falling apart. She knows she’s supposed to be happy about getting married, but every time she imagines herself as a housewife and mother, she gets ill. She starts identifying with food and becomes terrified of being consumed. At first it’s only meat and eggs that she can’t swallow, but the closer she gets to her wedding, the smaller her menu becomes.

All of the characters in this story are subconsciously rebelling against society’s expectations. They know that after college, they’re supposed to get married, get a good job, buy a house, have kids. They’re all trying to do what’s expected of them, but none of them actually want what’s expected. As a result, they’re all stuck. Marian is slowly starving to death while dreading her marriage. Marian’s roommate desperately wants children, but she doesn’t want a man in her life. Marian’s friend, Duncan, doesn’t like sex, but he does it because it’s expected of him. This book doesn’t have much of a plot, but it is a fascinating character study about people who reject what society wants for them.


“What a moron I was to think you were sweet and innocent, when it turns out you were actually college-educated the whole time!” – The Edible Woman



I think Marian’s mental illness is handled realistically. Her anxiety makes her throw up if she eats. She knows she’s in trouble, but her problems are dismissed by everyone else. The other characters tell her to “stop acting hysterical,” “don’t drink so much,” “get more sleep.” When Marian leaves a party without telling anyone, her fiancé gets angry because she made him look bad. No one tries to understand what’s going on with her. Everybody just assumes that she’s thrilled about all the changes in her life.


“I know I was alright on Friday when I got up; if anything I was feeling more solid than usual.” – The Edible Woman



The Edible Woman is Margaret Atwood’s first published novel. To me, it reads like a first novel. It’s definitely not my favorite Atwood book. It occasionally felt rambley to me, which got on my nerves because I just wanted it to move on with the plot. It also sometimes felt pretentious, like the author wanted to show how quirky and clever she could be.

The book does contain most of the stuff I love about Atwood’s work. It has brilliant descriptions, lifelike characters, feminist themes, and a sense of humor. Atwood is the queen of word choice. She somehow always finds the perfect word to bring a scene to life for me. It’s like a superpower or something.


“Her metaphors for her children included barnacles encrusting a ship and limpets clinging to a rock.” – The Edible Woman



If you’re new to Margaret Atwood, you probably shouldn’t start with this book. (Start with The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a lot better than this one.) The Edible Woman isn’t Atwood’s best novel, but it’s always interesting to see how authors get their start.








29 comments:

  1. Sounds interesting... Some people knock the ball out of the park with their first novel, others first novels are mainly read by those who study the authors writing. Sounds as if this is the latter. Good review!

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    1. Thanks! I love Margaret Atwood, but this one isn’t my favorite.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I enjoyed it, some time ago, it really felt typical of her writing

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    1. It does. It has a lot of the same themes that are in her later books.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I haven't been able to get through my first Atwoods book! and You are right! I would never know what this book is about! Thank you for explaining it. I like the character development and the nonconformity with society rules and.. mental health good rep! YAY!

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    1. A lot of people seem to struggle with Margaret Atwood. Probably because her books don’t have plots. That’s never really bothered me, though.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I've seen this one and thought that it sounded too weird for me too, but maybe I'll eventually give it a chance. Another great!

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  5. It sounds weird, but fascinating! I'll have to look closer at it... *after* I read The Handmaid's Tale. ;-)

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    1. Yes! The Handmaid’s Tale is a lot better than this one.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. Hi AJ - I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale .. but now you've intrigued me ... I'll remember it ... as this sounds interesting to say the least - cheers Hilary

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  7. I still haven't read any Margaret Atwood books, which is clearly a mistake, I understand this. This one sounds... so weird, but I am also really curious? I agree, I don't think this will be the first one I read (I REALLY need to read The Handmaid's Tale especially because I started the show, talk about a fail!) but I think I'd like to try it as some point just because it does sound interesting! Great review!

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    1. Thanks! I still need to watch The Handmaid’s Tale show. I’m so bad at watching TV. I tend to get distracted.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Great review! I've read The Handmaids's Tale and after watching Alias Grace, I've beebn wanting to read more Atwood. I think I might try some of her other workd before this one though. Is there any you'd reccomend?

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    1. “Alias Grace” is really good, but the ending is weird. I also like the “MaddAddam” trilogy. “The Blind Assassin” is confusing at first, but it all makes sense in the end. I loved “Cat’s Eye,” but a lot of people seem to hate that one because it’s really slow. I also like “Surfacing.” It’s short, and people don’t talk about it enough. I *think* those are all my favorite Atwood books. She’s written a lot of them.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. I read The Edible Woman in the '70s and have been put off Atwood ever since. I did read The Handmaid's Tale in the '90s, and listened to an (abridged) audio version of Alias Grace about the same time. Although I'm glad I 'read' those, they did not convince me to read more of the author's work. I'm not keen on dystopian fiction and it seems that most of her work for the last 20 years.

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    1. Yeah, it you don’t like dystopias, you probably won’t like most of Atwood’s recent books. She’s written some really bizarre dystopias.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. I've read a few Atwood books but hadn't stumbled across this one before. You've intrigued me with its synopsis. Looks like just the sort of quirky theme I will enjoy - thank you :-)

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  11. I didn't love The Handmaid's Tale, but I feel like I really need to give Margaret Atwood another try. This book does sound interesting, but I'm not sure I should start here, like you said. What would you recommend based on my not loving the one I've read? I just feel like she has very important messages! Great review :D

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    1. Thanks! All of Atwood’s books are slow and character-driven, so if you don’t like plotless books, you probably won’t like any of them. These are my favorites:

      MaddAddam Trilogy – very weird dystopias.

      Alias Grace – historical novel about a woman who may have killed people.

      The Blind Assassin – massive book that’s a mixture of sci-fi and historical fiction. It’s confusing at first, so you need patience.

      Surfacing – Short book about a woman going crazy in a cabin.


      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. "I’ve read almost all of Margaret Atwood’s fiction" - that is such an achievement!! Great review, it seems I will postpone this novel as long as possible now))

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  13. I have enjoyed several Atwood books, but didn't love the MaddAddam Trilogy. But I loved The Handmaid's Tale...and The Robber Bride. Also Cat's Eye.

    I thought I'd read The Edible Woman...but according to Goodreads, I haven't. So I'm off to find a copy. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. I like the complexity of this and I am glad you took the plunge and finally read it.

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  15. Have you read her book "The Heart Goes Last"? I think it is on a par with Handmaid's Tale. I just got her "Hag Seed" and her "Alias Grace" so I'm pretty set for Atwood for now.

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  16. I read the synopsis and kind of wondered what this was about as well... It seems pretty bizarre to me but it would be enough to kind of have me intrigued. I don't mind character driven reads so I think I would be okay with the lack of plot. But I don't think I can handle much more commentary on consumerism... I feel like we have a lot of that on our Englit course and I think I can't handle it :P

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