July 16, 2013 by Vicki
I could not finish Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm. As I have said many times before, I read for characters and their development. I found the main character, Rennie Wilford, in Bodily Harm completely despicable and worse yet, unbelievable. I could not believe this woman existed in any fictional world. She seemed unaware of her own surroundings, actions, and the consequences of actions. I had no sympathy for this character because I could not believe in her reality.
Rennie Wilford has undergone surgery to remove cancer from one of her breasts. The audience is given very little detail about her experience of having cancer and going through the surgery. The main focus of her experience seems to be on her developing crush on her doctor. Now, I am not saying that the audience is not given any description. We are told about her emotional reaction to the facts and her fear of the surgery itself. The focus, however, remains on her growing crush on her married doctor. I can’t help but feel that this trivializes a major issue for many Canadian women. Breast cancer is a woman’s issue and a growing concern with one in nine Canadian women expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Focusing on such a trivial aspect as that of the emotional entanglement between patient and doctor seemed to disregard the disease itself. I have lost family members to cancer so I admit that I am sensitive to these issues. I do not believe, however, that my sensitivity makes my criticism less valid or less important.
The main character is involved with a masochistic semi-abusive boyfriend named Jake. She ends the relationship due to her involvement with the doctor. Jake used to frequently surprise her by coming in from the window and they would engage in mock-rape fantasies. After the break-up, she comes home to discover that someone had broken into her home, made themselves Ovaltine, and left a coil of rope on the bed. She describes being terrified by the idea that a stranger has been in her apartment. I’m sorry but that does not make sense. Rennie spends a major portion of the story telling the audience about Jake’s obsession with breaking and entering; I have difficulty being surprised that he breaks into her apartment again. It would make sense that he would bring rope as it is the logical growth of their previous encounters. I could not understand her reaction.
Rennie Wilford’s reaction is to run away to a tropical resort in the middle of political mayhem. She is told that the area is undergoing an election that will probably be violent. She is told that the person she is associating with is dangerous. She is told that drugs play a huge role in the area. She stays involved with the dangerous person and is surprised when he sets her up to ferry drugs for him. Once again, I cannot believe that anyone could be this stupid and naive.
I have read five of Margaret Atwood’s novels and have only enjoyed one, Lady Oracle. Some of the other novels I could appreciate such as Surfacing and The Edible Woman but all of them suffered from characters that I simply cannot accept or believe in. I have decided, as a result of my current frustration, to end my investigation of Margaret Atwood. I believe Atwood is a fabulous writer. She sets scenes beautifully and has the ability to explore issues that often hide in our society. She does not, however, create characters who I personally enjoy. I do not believe that I am learning anything from reading these novels. I spend so much time just trying to understand the characters who act in such unbelievable ways that I lose track of the story. At a later date, I may explore some of her novels singularly but I do not have the patience to read through her entire novel collection.
- Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle (boudicabooks.org)
- Margaret Atwood’s Life Before Man (boudicabooks.org)
- Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (thegirlwhokeepsreading.wordpress.com)