Surfacing Paperback – Sep 15 1994
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First published in 1972, Surfacing was Margaret Atwood's second novel, following the critically acclaimed The Edible Woman. Atwood had already made her mark as a one of the most exciting new voices in Canadian poetry, winning the Governor General's Award in 1966 for The Circle Game, while her groundbreaking book of criticism, Survival, had started the process of redefining the meaning of Canadian literature.
In Surfacing, poetry and prose brilliantly come together in a heart-wrenching novel that focuses on a woman's desperate attempt to put the ghosts of her past to rest. With three friends, she's returned to the remote cabin in Northern Quebec where she spent her childhood. She's overwhelmed, almost to the point of emotional paralysis, by memories of her father and his death by drowning, her failed marriage and painful divorce, and an abortion that haunts her waking dreams. While she appears to be ambivalent about the landscape, it is the landscape that in fact will provide her with the means of healing herself and her broken spirit. Like Atwood's poetry of this period, Surfacing is a deeply psychological novel. Atwood uses the recurring image of surfacing from beneath the waves of an icy northern lake as a symbol of this woman's struggle to regain control of her life, to refuse to be a victim of her past. Surfacing is a poignant novel filled with the power of the Canadian wilderness to cleanse the soul, an image of the wilderness that has remained a preoccupation for Atwood throughout her writing career. --Jeffrey Canton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“One of the most important novels of the twentieth century…utterly remarkable.”
–New York Times Book Review
“Atwood probes emotions with X-ray precision. All in all, it’s an exhilarating performance.”
–Globe and Mail
“A brilliant tour-de-force.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“Atwood’s powers of observation are disconcertingly acute, combining an ear for the vernacular with an eye for the jugular.”
“The depth and complexity of Atwood’s critique of contemporary society are stunning.”
“It is excellent in so many ways that one cannot begin to do justice to it in a review. It has to be read and experienced.”
–Margaret Laurence, Quarry
“Margaret Atwood is one of the most intelligent and talented writers to set herself the task of deciphering life in the late twentieth century.”
“In this disturbing book, Margaret Atwood has written a fascinating, sometimes frightening novel about our Canadian landscape, about our paranoia, about what we are and what we are becoming.…Astonishing.”
“Surfacing is likely the best piece of fiction produced by Atwood’s generation in North America or anywhere.”
“[Atwood is] a superb storyteller who brings intelligence and wit to bear in a compelling personal vision.”
“It is quite simply superb.…She writes with the ease of total acceptance, from right inside the culture, authenticating our experience, holding up a mirror so that the image we get back is not distorted by satire or made unreal by proselytizing…but real.”
“The sophistication of its telling, the power of observation and imagination make the book remarkable.…It’s a masterful encounter with the way we live now.”
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
availability: in print
This is a book that wanted to be IMPORTANT. It's full of ideas that are important, anyway. Problem is, the characters therein seem as if they're there in order to advance the ideas, instead of the characters driving the novel and the ideas being introduced incidentally to the characters. This, of course, violates the one supremely inviolable rule of literature: the medium, to borrow slightly inaccurately from Mr. McLuhan, is the message. When the message (the theme) overwhelm the medium (the novel, which at its heart must contain at least some kind of conjunetion of plot and character), the work suffers. It is true of music, it is true of art, but most of all it is true of the novel, for a novel whose main goal is to put forth an idea, rather than to give the reader characters with whom s/he can sympathize, is necessarily doomed to fail.
This is not to say that said symapthetic (or antipathetic, certainly) characters cannot advance ideas; sure they can. But for a character to advance an idea in an effective manner, the character MUST be someone that the reader finds believable; otherwise; the novel stops being a novel and becomes a polemic. And that is exactly what we have here: four characters in search of an exit (or, perhaps, an author). None of them is sympathetic; none is well-drawn; none has enough depth to couch the ideas and beliefs that Atwood wants to give them, because their depth lies in those ideas, and it doesn't-- it can't-- work that way.
The main thing that kept me reading, was of course, the Deep Dark Secret(TM).Read more ›
The theme of killing is introduced through numerous incidents; the impaling and drowning of worms and a frog on fishing hooks, the messy business of killing a fish hooked into a canoe, the stinking corpse of a heron hung in a tree. Eventually we learn about the event on which the story turns; the killing of the narrator’s fetus in an abortion some years earlier. “I couldn’t accept it, that mutilation, ruin I’d made, I needed a different version. I pieced it together the best way I could, flattening it, scrapbook, collage, pasting over the wrong parts. A faked album, the memories fraudulent as passports; but a paper house was better than none and I could almost live in it, I’d lived in it until now.” [p.154]
Her horror, her guilt about that abortion is what is surfacing now. Her paper house is failing, and the story is about how she deals with that guilt. She doesn’t do it well.
To be fair, none of the characters in Surfacing show much personal integrity or character. There wasn’t a moment in the novel when I could sympathetically identify with any of them. They play base, codependent mind games with each other, ego dominance tactics and sulking and passive aggressive manipulation abound.Read more ›
Try it out for yourself, but please don't judge its value on a few anti-American references. Remember, she's Canadian, and the book was written in the 70's.
...But "Surfacing" goes far beyond that. It is intensely psychological, brimming with wise social commentary. Atwood herself once stated that the novel is about the social "machine"-in this world, one is either predator or prey. Destroy, or be destroyed. And those who are alive have obviously-either conciously or subconciously-chosen the former. The question addressed is "why isn't there a third choice?"
Another thing that I pulled from the novel, personally, was having to actually accept that we HAVE chosen the former--that we are not the innocents that we would love (and would be easier) to believe. To me, "surfacing," the actual term, represents coming out of some sort of darkness (like the lake in the novel), by claiming your whole being. By accepting the darkness in you, and accepting that you are not innocent; these parts of you which you are not entirely proud of (your shadow)-- Seeing all of yourself, in a different (and more objective) light.
So yes--this is probably my favorite novel created. Or at least my favorite contemporary. If read with an open mind, it is definitely a big third-eye-opener.
But be forewarned: wonderful as "Surfacing" is, if you are looking for Nora Roberts-like material and such, this is no romance, not even the "part detective thriller..." yada yada yada that it claims to be.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I read this book 30 years ago. I was too young. The most compelling narrative I have read in years.Published 17 days ago
What an incredible writer, she takes you on a journey that is difficult but awesome. I chose to read it because long ago, I tried a couple of times to read it but couldn't. Read morePublished on Jan. 31 2014 by Ann Drake
As long as you pick up a book that says Margaret Atwood down the spine you will be on to a winner. This book sits happily alongside her other great reads, it's enjoyable and... Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2013 by Mr. Jp White
i had to read this book for college and did it ever suck. They told me i had to write an essay about it, so i wrote an essay about the only interesting character, Dave, and teacher... Read morePublished on Oct. 1 2013 by Torie Monaghan
I read this book in my early 20's in the early 90's and found that her telling of the 70's was intriguing.Published on Dec 31 2011 by David Sabine
I had many thoughts about "Surfacing" while reading it. I thought it felt like homework at times; thought another author should cover the book, take Atwood's story and tell it... Read morePublished on June 23 2011 by Chris
On the exterior many lives are impetuously lived, in constant motion, constant flux, demanding change... while on the inside, important wheels have long since stopped turning. Read morePublished on Jan. 26 2002 by Cipriano
Having read most of Margaret Atwood's works of fiction, I have to say that Surfacing is probably the darkest of any I have read by her -- including the Handmaid's Tale. Read morePublished on Jan. 1 2002 by Denton Loving