Juushika's Reviews > Surfacing

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
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Sep 17, 10

bookshelves: status-owned
Read in September, 2010

When her father disappears, the protagonist of Surfacing returns to his remote lakehouse in a search which leads not to her father—but into the wilds of the land and her own past. One of Atwood's earliest novels, Surface's plot is deceptively simple and its themes complex. The real world events of the book are sparse and straightforward, but complexity lies in the protagonist's past and her mental state. Her flawed communication, false memories, and lies make her the consummate unreliable narrator; that her journey of self-discovery is also a decent into madness only complicates and confuses her story. The twists and instability may catch the reader off-guard, but following that intriguing, nuanced, subjective path is also the book's delight: it is a quiet, thoughtful process heavy with metaphor and symbolism, a journey of understanding and of self.

Unfortunately, the end of the book takes a sudden turn as the protagonist plummets into and then skyrockets out of madness. Although introduced with subtlety and grace, her madness comes to feel more symbolic than realistic—and in a book already awash with symbolism, this sudden exaggeration is too much: the loss of subtlety makes the ending feel hurried and almost clunky, and the loss of realism strips the book down to bare symbolism which hangs heavy without the support of a more realistic plot. Or perhaps Surfacing wasn't the Atwood novel for me, and those themes didn't have enough personal appeal to justify their heavy-handedness. If this is the case then I don't much mind: there are already many Atwood novels which I love without reservation, and that this one doesn't meet their high standard is hardly an insult. In the end, I give Surfacing a moderate recommendation: it's a fascinating story of unreliability, self, and mind, but I can't overlook its flaws.
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