Book Review: Lady Oracle-Margaret Atwood

My introduction to Margaret  Atwood came a few years ago in my University library. I was  skimming through the books trying to decide which ones were interesting enough to borrow. I opened Lady Oracle and the first line seemed so intriguing I decided to check it out. I went on to read two more of Atwood’s books and to be honest, I am not crazy about her books. I liked Lady Oracle the most out of the three I read. Even though I did not like the other two, I will still concede that they are good books, just not to my taste. The Edible Woman had me thinking “what the hell am I reading?” but I was still impressed by it. Atwood is a good writer, she uses language beautifully and her books are really creative, sometimes to the point of utter confusion. Her books are well written but bland. I don’t know if I am making sense or if Ms. Atwood has made me lose my mind. Let’s get on with it.

Here is my review for Lady Oracle.

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

“I planned my death carefully…”

The very first line wets the reader’s appetite and arouses interest in the book.

The reader encounters the heroine, first as Joan Foster, hiding out in Terremoto Italy, and is then introduced to her past as Atwood takes us through her childhood in Toronto Canada as Joan Delacourt. Overweight Joan does not really fit in as she deals with bullies, spearheaded by her needling neurotic mother who never fails to convey her utter disappointment in her. Openly irritated by her obese daughter, she does all she can to mould Joan into the image she prefers, to no avail. Joan’s father, who was away at war for the first 5 years of her life, is a stranger she has little to say to. She finds succor in her plump aunt Louise with whom she identifies with. It is her aunt who takes her to a spiritualist church where she gets introduced to astral bodies and automatic writing.

After a fracas with her mother, she moves to England where she meets the mysterious Polish count- the first in a series of men she gets involved with, each different from the last but similar in their eccentricity. It is through the count that she gets introduced to romantic fiction and she secretly starts to write Costume Gothics, using her now dead aunt’s name- Louisa K Delacourt. Joan soon meets Arthur Foster, a melancholic activist fuelled by the different political causes he jumps into frequently. They get married and she assumes another persona- Joan Foster. While still secretly writing the Costume Gothics, she manages to publish a critically acclaimed novel she wrote in a trance. Her new found fame as a legitimate writer brings her love in form of the Royal Porcupine, a collector of dead animals. It also brings her blackmail which is what causes her to fake her death and run to Italy for comfort. Even then, in true Joan fashion, she quickly finds herself unsettled yet again.

Lady Oracle is a beautifully written novel. Margaret Atwood segues between the present and the past and carries the reader along flawlessly. Atwood writes about eerie and quirky situations with a strange sense of normalcy. There are no sharp twists and turns and she manages to carry the plot and intricate characters rather mundanely and hilariously.

The theme of a conflict of identity, present in some of the author’s other works, is prominent here. Joan battles with an identity crisis that defines her throughout the book. She frequently finds herself conforming to others’ expectations of her and has to create more identities the more people she meets. She manages to lose the weight but the scars from her childhood never fully heal and they travel with her like an omnipresent shadow. She tries to shed her past along with the excess weight but it leeches onto her like a parasite and she realizes nothing really goes away.

There is no clear conclusion to the story. I flipped through the pages ravenously, awaiting the climax and expecting some closure, both of which never came. I turned the page once more only to be confronted with the end and was thus left disappointed and unsatisfied.

Written in 1976, this was only Atwood’s third novel so any oversights may be forgiven. Readers, well versed with her later works may find Lady Oracle lacking in comparison. Nevertheless, Lady Oracle is a good introduction to Margaret Atwood and a fine book in itself. The let down at the end does not erase the wonderfulness of the preceding 345 pages.

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