Rosie Gaunt's Reviews > Lady Oracle

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Apr 02, 2011

really liked it
Read on April 02, 2011

Lady Oracle. The quote on the cover of my copy, taken from a review in Time magazine, reads 'A mistress of controlled hysteria'. I am assuming here that they are referring to Atwood and not the novel's protagonist, who is a mistress (indeed numerous men's mistress) and yet a mistress of nothing, and that's not even mentioning how stratospherically out of control her hysteria is. It is true that, as many reviews proclaim, protagonist Joan Foster (just one of her many names) is hard to like, but that is also what makes the novel a fascinating read; retracing the story of her many love lives, lives, and her slips into the confused madness of that 'world of unseen visions and heard silences' - the mind. What is absorbing, and haunting, and the true genius of Atwood's accomplishment is the sense that what you are reading is real, that it is an autobiography; which makes the awful parts that much more unbearably sad and the funny parts that much more darn funny. The novel is funny, mostly because you feel Atwood just has a different grip on reality than the rest of us; she notices, and recounts odd things and has a, refreshingly, peculiar turn of phrase. The end result has all the polish of the work of a prize-winning poet laureate, with the raw talent and emotion of a little known blogger. The result is a winner, of course, and as much as I truly abhor the coupling of 'hysteria' ('controlled' or not) with woman, particularly a female writer, Atwood does indeed narrate a woman's deterioration, or indulgence, into 'hysteria' - something that is she gives such life to, that I was compelled, for the first time in my life, to read to the end of the novel as fast as I could out of pure anxiety. Alas, the end was a bit of an anti-climax, but perhaps, on reflection, that's the whole point. The novel was never meant to be about a culmination, but a journey: and one you feel that even though the printed words on the page end, it continues, somewhere in the aether of reality or literature-yet-to-be-written. Indeed, one of my favourite aspects of the novel is the winding odyssey through the labyrinth of literature and life, and all the frayed, blurred edges between them. Lady Oracle is certainly a classic modern gothic, and yet one that incessantly mocks the genre: this is a truly extraordinary work.

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