Saturday, April 6, 2019

Mini Reviews: Bodily Harm || Three Things About Elsie

*This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood

Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 304
Publication date: 1981
Content warning: Cancer, surgery, murder, jail, political corruption, relationship problems
Available at: Amazon | Book Depository

Rennie Wilford, a young journalist running from her life, takes an assignment to a Caribbean island and tumbles into a world where no one is what they seem. When the burnt-out Yankee Paul (does he smuggle dope or hustle for the CIA?) offers her a no-hooks, no strings affair, she is caught up in a lethal web of corruption.

Likes: Like all of Margaret Atwood’s books, this one is brilliantly written. One of the things I admire about Atwood is that she seems to have a deep understanding of unlikeable people. Her characters aren’t heroes. The main character in Bodily Harm, Rennie, is infuriating. I wanted to step through the pages and say “Girl, no. Just stop.” She makes a series of bad choices that end with her being locked in a foreign prison.

Rennie is a slow-motion train wreck. Sometimes it’s hard to look away. Rennie recently survived cancer, a burglary, and a cheating boyfriend. To get away from it all, she visits a Caribbean island to write a fluffy travel story for a magazine. As she befriends the locals, the island paradise spirals out of control. Rennie isn’t very smart. She’s oblivious to the fact that the locals are drawing her into their violent political revolution. The reader can’t do anything but sit back and watch Rennie sink deeper into political quicksand. You know this won’t end well for her. 

. . . the beige should not wear beige.Bodily Harm

Dislikes: This isn’t my favorite Atwood book. She has grown a lot as a writer since Bodily Harm was published. This is one of her early novels, and it shows.

Rennie isn’t always compelling to read about. She’s very passive and has no sense of self-preservation. She allows bad things to happen to her. I found my attention wandering while I was reading because she wasn’t doing anything. Things just happen to her, and she goes along with them.

My edition of this novel was printed in 1984. I need to time-machine myself back there and kick the ass of whoever was in charge of quality control at the printer. This book was so hard to read! There are missing words, missing punctuation, weird spaces. Some of the print is so faint that it’s nearly impossible to see. It was hard to get invested in the story because each page revealed a new printing horror. How did this even happen?!

The Bottom Line: Not Atwood’s best work. If you’re a hardcore Atwood fan, then reading her early work might be interesting. If you’re not a hardcore fan, then skip this one and read her dystopias.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Genre: Literary fiction / mystery
Pages: 384
Publication date: January 2018
Content warning: Death, murder, theft, injury, disappearance, memory loss due to old age
Available at: Amazon | Book Depository

There are three things you should know about Elsie. The first thing is that she’s my best friend. The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better. And the third thing might take a bit more explaining.

Eighty-four-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light. If the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

Likes: The cover looks like Battenberg cake. I swear that’s not the only reason why I love this book. (It’s definitely one of the reasons, though.)

One of the best novels I read last year was Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. It’s about an elderly woman with memory problems who’s trying to find her best friend. Three Things About Elsie also stars old people who are trying to solve a mystery, and I loved it just as much as Elizabeth is Missing.

The main character, Florence, has fallen in her apartment and is waiting for someone to find her. While she waits, she thinks about the mystery she’s trying to solve with her friends, Elsie and Jack. The mystery is an unusual one that kept me turning pages. Florence believes the new resident in her nursing home is a murderer who supposedly died sixty years ago. She sets out to uncover his identity and bring him to justice.

Florence, Jack, and Elsie make a great team. They support each other when no one else will. Jack actually listens to Florence when other people say, “She has dementia and doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” Jack believes her and takes her concerns seriously. We should all be more like him. He doesn’t allow Florence to feel ignored.

The ending is so sad! I can’t give more details because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s sad.

Now we were old. Now we were different people, and it felt as though everything we went through had happened to someone else, and we had just stood and watched it all from the future.Three Things About Elsie

Dislikes: Parts of the plot are predictable, which is a little disappointing in a mystery. The book also has a saggy middle, but I loved the characters enough that I didn’t really care.

The Bottom Line: I liked it! Loveable characters and a mystery that I wanted to solve. I need more books about elderly characters.


  1. Bodily Harm sounds like a dark read. I've been meaning to read any of Atwood work and after your review I think I saw start with the popular Handmaid's Tale. Also quality control while not nearly as bad as it was, I still find books that have issues and it drives me insane!

    Carrie @ The Butterfly Reader

    1. The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely Atwood’s best work, so that would be a good place to start. I find typos and formatting issues in books pretty often. It irritates me, too!

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. You've sold me on Three Things About Elsie. :)

  3. I keep seeing Three Things About Elsie around, and was kind of intrigued entirely on the basis of the cover. I hadn't associated it with Battenberg, but now you mention it, that is exactly what it looks like! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I might have to give it a try :)

    1. The cover is what first got my attention. It made me hungry! The story inside is really good. I liked the mystery.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. Now I want cake, but I also love seeing some age diversity in a book. I always feel like the characters seem to fall into a particular age range in most adult lit. I am all about characters, so even if there are plot issues, I will continue reading because I love them and want to see how it all works out for them. Seems like a decent run of books for you. Yeah!

    1. YES! We need more old people in books. I’m all about the characters too. If I love the characters, I can forgive a lot of other issues.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  5. Other than The Handmaid's Tale, I don't think I've read any other Margaret Atwood books!

  6. Great to know your opinion on Cannon's book. It is on my wish list, but I am stil not sure.