Review: Surfacing by Margaret Atwood


Publication: January 1st 1972
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart Lmtd.
Pages:  192 pages
Source: Bought (Used Bookstore)
Genre: Fiction, Canadian, Mystery
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤

I’ve read a lot of books by Margaret Atwood, but none of them have been as strange as Surfacing was.

I heard of Surfacing a few years back when I was just getting into Atwood. My dad had read the book way back in university not long after it had been published. He hadn’t liked the book, had said it was confusing and strange, and it had completely put him off of Atwood until this year when he read The Blind Assassin and recognized how great a writer she really is (I kind of like Margaret Atwood okay!). I had just finished reading the Maddam series and couldn’t believe he’d said such a thing about such a Canadian icon, so when I found Surfacing in a used bookstore of course I had to buy it and prove my dad wrong.

Except it is kind of weird, and strange, and confusing, at least at the end. But it didn’t put me off Atwood!

Surfacing follows an unnamed young woman, her two friends, and her boyfriend as they travel to rural Quebec. The group aren’t close friends, our protagonist has only known them for about two months and has probably been with her new boyfriend (if you could call him that) for less that time, but they’re good at acting like they are, like they care, like they want to help our narrator find her father who’s disappeared from his house on a nearby island. The narrator and her friends go to the island and set up camp in the newly abandoned house becoming one with nature while the narrator attempts to find clues around her childhood home about what happened to her father, and maybe what happened to herself.

The book definitely has aspects of it as a mystery or thriller without fully dwelling into the genre, because that’s really not the point of Atwood’s story. It might seem that way in the beginning, and at times you may expect a twist or goosebumps like in a Gillian Flynn novel so don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen, because at its heart Surfacing is achingly Canadian.

It’s about the discovery of identity, how easy it is to lose one’s identity in others, in growing up, in trying to conform to other people and places around you. It’s about getting back to your roots, about remembering and being comfortable with who you are.

And it’s hard to explain what exactly makes this book so Canadian. It’s more than that it’s written by a Canadian, or that it’s set in Canada, or that I’m a Canadian reading it. It’s something about the nature, the land the story itself is set in and the narrator’s connection and coming back to it.

Surfacing is a beautiful book (though a bit confusing near the end) that should be studied in many Canadian Literature classes and just English classes in Canada. I don’t know why we don’t study our own literature in schools but it’s something that should become normalized. Very much like the narrator, it’s something we need to return to, something to re-familiarize ourselves with.


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