Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Edible Woman - M's review

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
This review contributes towards M's Classics Club Challenge

The Edible Woman was Margaret Atwood’s first published novel. Published in 1969, Atwood says that it was written a few years before this and so was not a part of the feminist wave of the late 1960s/early 1970s. On reading it though, it certainly gives a very clear flavour of the momentum that was building for what has become an enduring social movement.

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
Gender identity and power dynamics in accepted social and economic relationships are central to this novel. While this novel is about relationships, what was more striking for me is its portrayal and exploration of inner psyches. This is especially evident in Marian’s case as she explores what it is that makes her and what it that is eating her up.

Marian leads a mundane, middle class life. She has a university degree, works in a market research office, has a gorgeous lawyering boyfriend, and shares a non-descript flat with Ainsley. Meanwhile, their mutual friend Clara seems to be lost in married life and pregnancies.

In Marian’s office, there are only women working on her floor. The floor above, with bosses and thinkers and so on, is full of men. As the novel moves along, Marian starts to consider who she is and who – or what – the women around her are. She wonders whether she will become like them. As her plain life moves on, she is asked to help out in some market research and she meets Duncan who is quite unlike anyone she seems to have known. The spoke in the wheel, Duncan’s presence in the novel really kickstarts her contemplations and everything and everyone starts to change, not least of which is her diet.

I stayed up until the early hours to finish this novel. Someone recently said that there are novels that grip you the whole way through while there are others that perhaps ebb and flow and it is only the end that brings it all together and offers up a profound reward. In The Edible Woman’s case, for me the end of part 2 is priceless.

The Edible Woman appears to be a consciously crafted novel. Atwood (I don’t know what hand the editor had in this) develops the conceit of the edible woman, becoming particularly strong in Part 2 when the narration and Marian’s diet change. The structure is important too. It’s written in three parts moving from first person narration, to third and back to first, although really it’s all in first person but told in third. Part 2 is Marian’s detached monologue. I loved the way a seeming shifting point-of-view was really a shift in expression and really enhanced that inner exploration that I mentioned.

Atwood uses a lot of imagery, something that is probably in her other books but that I have either never noticed or paid much attention to before.

Strong themes in the novel include gender, identity, homophobia, consumerism, marriage, femininity, normality. Interestingly, some of the other themes – food production, consuming and consumerism – and even hints of Duncan, can perhaps be found in her much more recent MaddAddam novels (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood).

While the plot situations and the characters are all adult (i.e. over 20s), I’d also recommend this to interested teen readers.

Verdict: For me, this counts as classic. Written during my parents’ generation, it has stood the test of being read across generations. While being a testament to its time, it reads like a contemporary novel. For me, the writing is also well-crafted, a slow pace that flows easily and explores many aspects. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

Publication details: 2012, Virago Press, London, paperback. First published 1969.
This copy: mine.


Reminders for me in my old age about the plot:



* Marian’s body starts to reject food. At first, it seems she is becoming vegetarian. Then it starts rejecting vegetables too. A flash thought is that she is pregnant – and that would be ironic (seeing as Ainsley is deliberately pregnant, Clara seems to be lost in pregnancies and Marian thinks she’d be much better at organising married life). But then, it’s neither of these: it’s because the prospect of marriage to Peter is destroying her. So she bakes a cake and forms it into the edible woman.


  1. This is one of my favorite books. Great review!

    1. Thank you; I'm a huge Atwood fan so I was pleased that this one lived up to my expectations.

  2. I have been meaning to read this for ages; your review has convinced me to move it up the TBR pile. Thanks!


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