cw // mentions of eating disorders
Marian is determined to be ordinary.
She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her serious fiancée and quietly awaits marriage. But she didn’t count on an inner rebellion that would rock her stable routine, and her digestion.
Marriage a la mode, Marian discovers, is something she literally can’t stomach…
AINSLEY’S MOUTH OPENED AND CLOSED, FISHLIKE, AS THOUGH SHE WAS TRYING TO GULP DOWN THE FULL IMPLICATION OF WHAT SHE SAW. ‘MARIAN!’ SHE EXCLAIMED AT LAST, WITH HORROR. ‘YOU’RE REJECTING YOUR FEMININITY!’ MARIAN LOOKED BACK AT HER PLATTER. THE WOMAN LAY THERE, STILL SMILING GLASSILY, HER LEGS GONE. ‘NONSENSE,’ SHE SAID. ‘IT’S ONLY A CAKE.’ SHE PLUNGED HER FORK INTO THE CARCASS, NEATLY SEVERING THE BODY FROM THE HEAD.
From the author of The Handmaid’s Tale comes a thoroughly engaging, rather odd, and occasionally grotesque story about the destructive power of man-woman relationships in 1960s Toronto.
Our protagonist, Marian, is a twenty-something who gets engaged her to dull-but-respectable laywer beau, Peter. Shortly after, she begins losing her appetite which causes problems. Marian suffers an identity crisis as she begins to realise that perhaps she doesn’t want to submit to this marriage after all.
Atwood has concocted a strange little world in The Edible Woman. Bearded men act like giant babies, a woman can be metaphorically – and quite literally! – eaten, and everyone is desperate to fill up their counterparts’ role according to society and history.
Written well before anoxeria nervosa was a common disorder, the way Atwood sets up Marian’s condition is particularly masterful. Marian works at a marketing research firm where we see that she is constantly aware of the rampant consumerism around her. Atwood sprinkles in many a food metaphor in the early chapters with Seymour Surveys’ office hierarchy being ‘layered like an ice cream sandwich, with the three floors: the upper crust, the lower crust, and our department, the gooey layer in the middle’. Even the office air-conditioning fan is described as ‘stirring the air around like a spoon in soup’ – just genius!
While I loathe a POV change, the changing of the novel’s perspective from first-person to third-person as Marian starts to become unstable is incredibly clever and only serves to highlight how alienated Marian is from not just everyone around her, but also her own self.
The Edible Woman is packed full of secondary characters that are all entertaining. From the forthright Ainslie, to Marian’s gang of blonde colleagues – dubbed ‘the office virgins’ – to Duncan, a skeletal boyish graduate student who is everything that Peter isn’t. Duncan was a puzzling and sometimes uncomfortably mysterious character. One can never quite be sure if he’s real or a figment of Marian’s imagination…
The peek Atwood offers into WASP, straight-laced 1960s Toronto is utterly captivating – particularly a rather drawn out scene where two unmarried characters (no spoilers!) try to find a hotel to have sex in is hilarious. Through a more modern lens, Atwood’s novel holds up well and still offers a valuable insight into society’s obsession with food, consumption and the glamorisation of the ‘perfect life’.
The Edible Woman is a funny, engaging novel about emotional cannibalism, men and women, and desire to be consumed. It’s no surprise that Atwood has gone on to become one of the most influential and profilic voices of her generation.