So much of this book reminded me of my childhood, and not in a pleasant way. It reminded me so much of the messed up relationships I had with ‘friends’ at school, girls who were so nasty and spiteful and who made my school days a torture. Atwood inhabited the life of an unhappy and bullied child perfectly “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.” which described that horrid loneliness I felt as a child, knowing that adults either felt that my problems didn’t exist or truly understanding that there was really nothing they could do about it. Maybe this is when we lose innocence, when we realise we have to solve our own problems.
Yet despite all of that, this book took the sting out of so much of what those girls did in my life. Unexpectedly, Elaine’s ‘best friend’ Cordelia was reduced to a small, frightened and unloved little girl, incredibly troubled by life. And then a funny thing happened. The girls from my childhood suddenly became small, and frightened, and troubled by the neglect of their fathers. It took away the hurt and distress of my memories and replaced them with empathy and compassion. I feel like the boogie man has been chased out of my cupboard.
In other respects, this book was a depressing one. And by that I don’t mean that anything terribly bad happened, as not terribly much happened at all. By that I mean there was a general depressive mood to the whole thing. Elaine, the main character, mused on her old age and the discomfort she felt at feeling washed up and out-of-place in the fashionable art scene she didn’t feel a part of. Yet, from what I could gather she was only in her late forties. Either times have changed radically in the last twenty years and forty is no longer old, or she was reflecting on how invisible and irrelevant women often feel at that age.
Along with the depressive mood I felt like there was something malevolent about the book. As though someone was about to die dramatically (I worried constantly about her brother) or there would be some horrid twist in the plot. Nothing of consequence really happened like that, but it still felt like there was a soundtrack of babies crying and high-pitched violins playing the whole time I was reading. It made it pretty disturbing.
Despite all that it was still a good book. She portrayed post-war Canada in a really beautiful way and the impression I have in my mind now is still from the beginning of the book when she lived in a time of innocence, before girl friends, wandering the country with her parents and brother collecting bug samples and living in the forest.
Now reading: March – Geraldine Brooks