Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Surfacing” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.45  ·  Rating details ·  23,120 ratings  ·  1,573 reviews
Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the su ...more
Paperback, 199 pages
Published June 1998 by Anchor (first published 1972)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Surfacing, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Susan I watched the movie after finding out about it here. it was a terrible 1970's hippie cliche' that missed/ignored all of the interesting aspects of the…moreI watched the movie after finding out about it here. it was a terrible 1970's hippie cliche' that missed/ignored all of the interesting aspects of the book. I'd say as far as the movie goes: fuggedabboudit.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  23,120 ratings  ·  1,573 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Surfacing
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Nothing good ever comes from two couples locking themselves in some cabin in the woods. (See "Evil Dead," "Cabin Fever," "Cabin in the Woods"... well, actually just the first one [for I do think the latter two suh-uck!]) Ehh-verr.

But Margaret Atwood is not a horror writer. This is her take on the isolation that begets thoughts too deep to describe other than in her language. With a lyrical poetic voice, we see here precursors to the also extraordinary "Alias Grace" & "The Blind Assassin" (as wel
On the surface, this novel is a detective story.

A woman travels in the company of friends to a remote island to find out what happened to her father, who suddenly disappeared without a trace. Underneath the surface, stored memories of things past begin to move - upward, outward - until they burst like bubbles when they are surfacing.

Our identity is formed and guided as much by the things we have lost as by the things we still have. In fact, sometimes what we lose sticks more heavily in our th
Barry Pierce
Atwood's previous novel, The Edible Woman, dealt with a young woman who is so terrified of marriage that it causes her to lose her touch with reality and fall deeper and deeper into mental illness. It was a good novel but its biggest weakness was its plot. In Surfacing, Atwood treads much of the same ground but completely jettisons any semblance of a plot and thus presents us with a far more intriguing and mature work.

Our unnamed female narrator brings her lover and their two (married) friends t
The last time I read this 1972 beauty was approximately half my lifetime ago. It was a vital part of a never-waning appreciation and adoration for Margaret Atwood's work. I'm pretty sure I didn't quite get it then, being a very young adult, unaware of many things going on in this far-out, complex ride into the Canadian wilderness.

Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. But I do know I loved it then, and I love it now.

What was different this time around was I had a better idea of the time in which it was s
If you ever happen to walk up to a fresh water lake and see me in it, go find a damn life preserver and toss it in, immediately. There are only two reasons that I'd ever stick one toe in that leech-infested nastiness: I have fallen in and I am drowning, or I'm rescuing another person who is drowning. Either way, we require assistance.

Similarly, if you ever happen to walk up and see me with a fishing pole in my hand, you can consider me the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. The day I stick bait
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
A story of loss and struggle for identity around a remote Canadian lake in the 60s (ish). It starts out slowly and straightforwardly with two couples visiting the remote island cabin that belonged to the narrator’s missing father. However, it becomes evident (I can hardly say “clear”) that there is much more going on. There are tensions between and within the couples, the narrator’s own story is tantalisingly contradictory and it’s not always clear at first whether she’s talking literally or met ...more
Emily B
Not my favourite Atwood novel. I listened to the audiobook despite owning a physical copy, I just don’t think it would have held my attention.
Paul Bryant
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
In The Evil Dead these kids go and stay in a remote cabin out in the woods and they release evil spirits that want to kill them etc. In Cabin Fever these kids go and stay in a remote cabin out in the woods and catch a flesh eating disease and die and go mad, etc. In The Cabin in the Woods these kids go and stay in a remote cabin way out in the woods where a zombie army tries to kills them etc. Now these are movies but in Surfacing, which is a book, these kids go and stay in a remote cabin out in ...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
An always thought-provoking, awe-inspiring and disturbing plunge into the depths of Atwood's (early) vision, voice and artistry. Everything and more than I remembered. It reads equally as powerful and mostly as relevant today as it did when I first read it, not so long (these things are relative; I re-read this on my 50th birthday) after it was published in 1972.

I feel sorry for readers who find this plotless, obtuse and unfinished. It is nothing short of perfect, in my mind. Atwood probes memo
This novel of Atwood's borders on being speculative fiction. It has neither supernatural nor futuristic elements, but the reader sees into the head of an individual on the verge of insanity. We are shown the world of the central protagonist’s distorted and twisted imagination.

The central protagonist is a woman in her late twenties. She is unnamed and the narrator of the story. She is searching for her missing father, who had been residing on an island in a lake in northern Quebec. She travels t
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating early work by Atwood, if perhaps not quite one that hits the heights of the likes of Cat's Eye, Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin.

We meet the unnamed narrator travelling north through Quebec in a car with two men and another woman. It transpires that they are two couples, going to investigate the disappearance of her father, who has been living in a remote cabin on a lake island where he has been largely self sufficient. They spend longer than planned on the island, relationships
Raul Bimenyimana
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women-writers
The second Atwood book I have read, and it was just as absorbing and as striking as the first, The Handmaid's Tale. Having finished The Vegetarian just before I started on this, reading this felt like a companion book to The Vegetarian. Both books have female protagonists that develop an aversion for animal flesh and human beings and later themselves and retreat into themselves but with varying repercussions.

The unnamed female protagonist, together with three others leave the city for a cabin by
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I don't even know how to start to review this. It's hard to believe that this was just Atwood's second novel. The writing is so powerful it knocked me off my feet in places. I had an extremely emotional response to this book. I actually finished it last night but I wanted to think about it a bit before I gave it five stars. The ending almost brought it down a star but after thinking about it more I've decided that it is worth the full 5.

The story starts out with an unnamed narrator who is on a
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: the-list
I checked the copyright date on this book and found out that it was first published in 1972. Let's all pause and bow our heads to offer a silent prayer of thanks that Margaret Atwood has improved with time.

The copy I have of this book is part of a larger volume containing three Atwood novels. Because there's no plot synopsis on the back of the book or the inside of the jacket, I dove into it having no idea what it was going to be about. It took me thirty pages to figure it out. For the benefit
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a really interesting read. I think it would have had more of an impact on me personally if I was able to read it in a sitting or two (but, alas, life inhibits uninterrupted reading). Surfacing resonates with many other works by Atwood, such as the MaddAddam trilogy and The Edible Woman. At first the writing style bothered me with the constant commas and seemingly unending sentences, but as I got into the novel, this style to facilitate the reader's comprehension of the narrator's stream ...more
Mark Porton
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood to my dismay was mostly unenjoyable.

The story is about two couples who venture out into the Canadian wilderness to look for the main character's missing father.

Initially I found the interplay between the 4 main characters interesting, as it was a good illustration of how some couples function, or don't function as it were.

But, I need to confess, there was so much of this story I just didn't understand. In fact, as I was barrelling towards the end, I felt the whole
Margaret Atwood's second novel and one I'm reading for the first time.

Atwood digs deep into the female psyche, as well as the human psyche, probing and poking in all the dark underwater caves that the modern world has separated us from. Her unnamed protagonist is searching for her missing father in a remote area of northeast Canada. She has brought along her current lover and a married couple whom, removed from their city life in Toronto, she is able to see clearly and critically, and bit by bit
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
This was not an easy read. The story starts out very simply with an unnamed woman who returns to her family home, a cabin in the wilderness of Quebec, Canada. This is not a happy homecoming as she had left home years earlier and has not spoken to anyone in her family since. There is the added layer of her reason for going back. She is hoping to find clues to her father's mysterious disappearance. She is accompanied by her partner, Joe, and a married couple, Anna and David.

As we go deeper into t
Katheryn Thompson
I just want to start by saying that I've read some strange books, but this one's definitely up there. There's only one thing I'm sure about, and that's that the writing is gorgeous. This is my first Atwood novel, and I will definitely be reading more. Beyond that, I'm not really sure what happened.
The protagonist, a young woman from whose perspective the book is told but whose name is never revealed, returns to northern Quebec to the remote island of her childhood, with her lover and two friends
May 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who think boring = like totally deep, man.
Shelves: novel, fiction
I got about 2/3 of the way through this book and finally had to give up on it. Sure, the language was lovely and descriptive, but the plot just wouldn't move. There was a bit of suspense that something interesting could happen any second, but it just. never. did. I sensed that there may have been a more esoteric point to it all that I just wasn't getting yet, but I couldn't bring myself to care enough to stick with it anymore and find out, because really, if it was there, Ms. Atwood should have ...more
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2018
Surfacing, or all the way you can be haunted - by your childhood, your parents, your marriage, your brother who may or may not have drowned before or after you were born - you may remember him, you may never have met him. Shadows and ghosts follow us. The past is never the past (I read that line somewhere. Where? I can’t remember).

This is a little bit In the Lake of the Woods and a little bit The Bell Jar. It’s bitter and broken and strange. Or it might all be PTSD from (view spoiler)
Nov 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
A dreary narrative from a protagonist who seems to be stuck in some sort of apathetic trance. Everything from the protagonist's childhood, relationships and occupation is totally lifeless, and what's worse is that the narrative is not following a plot line. This book only gave me a very vague idea of who the woman in the story is, and what role she plays for the people in her life.

I failed to see the depth in this novel that so many people applaud. Margaret Atwood has things to say about relati
Ever-insightful Margaret Atwood, who creates flawed and unlikable characters, projects us into their heads and makes us sympathize with them. I have yet to run into an Atwood novel I didn't enjoy, but I also think that this book is not quite the same caliber as some of her later work.

A woman goes back to the small Quebec village of her childhood vacation to look for her estranged father, who was reported missing. She doesn't really want to see him, but she needs to know he is safe. She brings he
Lea | That_Bookdragon
Read for college

The only thing that kept me going is the grade I will get on my assignment for it the sole amount of anger and resentment I felt while reading it.
Matthew Ted
166th book of 2020.

3.5. This is my third Atwood book after The Handmaid's Tale (which I studied in college) and The Blind Assassin (which I read of my own accord at University). Atwood has always interested me as a writer but never particularly enchanted me. Here was the first time I was genuinely stunned by her control of language; the prose in Surfacing is wonderful, a true pleasure to read from start to finish.

The plot, rather stylistically, progresses gently, bobbing, or rippling. Things are
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Surfacing’ (1972) is Atwood’s second published novel and as might be anticipated, does not measure up against the brilliantly conceived, constructed and realised classic Atwood novels that were yet to come (‘Blind Assassin, Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, Cat’s Eye’ et al) and whilst it’s not in the same league as Atwood at her best – it still stands up as strong and accomplished novel and well worth a read.

‘Surfacing’ covers or touches on themes now familiar in subsequent Atwood novels – this is
Apr 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Madness is only an amplification of what you already are.”

“It was before I was born but I can remember it as clearly as if I saw it, and perhaps I did see it: I believe that an unborn baby has its eyes open and can look out through the walls of the mother’s stomach, like a frog in a jar.”

An unnamed Canadian woman returns to her isolated home searching for her father. She is drawn back into her past memories of childhood and those she has suppressed. Gradually letting herself go back to nature,
Mar 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my third reading of Surfacing and I'm still not sure I totally get it. Each read has been rewarding though. It went up a star for me this time. I think this novel works a lot like a poem. It's about what you feel rather than what can be perfectly, clearly articulated. ...more
Nick Imrie
Feb 12, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the sort of book that gives literary fiction a bad name: a story in which nothing much happens, just a collection of nasty, middle-class people being mean and spiteful, more or less subtly. One could argue that the endless ugly prose is a reflection of the protagonist's state of mind, but that doesn't make it any more bearable to read.

I suppose it's a good depiction of the self-hating slave morality of middle-class women just prior to 2nd wave feminism taking off – but really, you could
A young woman goes home to rural Canada to search for her missing father. Throughout this short novel, we watch the narrator descend into madness. Not Atwood's finest work by any means, but it's very readable. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: [done] ISBN13 does not match ISBN10 3 7 Jul 23, 2021 08:29AM  
Reading 1001: Surfacing - Atwood 3 13 May 09, 2020 12:55PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Another cover for Surfacing 2 24 Apr 20, 2016 12:37AM  
FABClub (Female A...: Surfacing group discussion 12 43 May 06, 2015 10:43AM  
Boxall's 1001 Bo...: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood 9 167 Jun 24, 2012 12:15PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Jest of God
  • The Diviners
  • Soucouyant
  • Remembering Babylon
  • As for Me and My House
  • The Backwoods of Canada
  • Tutto il sole che c'è
  • Settlers of the Marsh
  • The Twilight Years
  • Ik ben er niet
  • Legends of Vancouver
  • The Baltimore Atrocities
  • The Fire-Dwellers
  • Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama
  • Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia
  • La circonferenza dell'alba
  • The Stone Angel
  • Le stelle gemelle e altri racconti
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, childr

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
66 likes · 12 comments
“Stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results.” 866 likes
“They will not let you have peace, they don't want you to have anything they don't have themselves.” 102 likes
More quotes…