Review: ‘Bodily Harm’

bodily

Bodily Harm
By Margaret Atwood

  • Date finished: Aug. 25, 2014
  • Genre: Fiction, Thriller
  • Year: 1981
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2014
  • Grade: B+

I picked up Bodily Harm about a year ago at my library book sale, knowing that it was cheap and that I probably wouldn’t be disappointed given it’s Margaret Atwood, and she’s amazing. The Blind Assassin just blew me away and changed so much in my reading life, and so I knew I wanted to read more Atwood. This wasn’t The Handmaid’s Tale, but it couldn’t be bad, right?

And I was right: it definitely wasn’t bad. This book was very good. However, it wasn’t what I was expecting, and the story wasn’t the exact kind that I’m usually drawn to.

That isn’t to say it was a bad book, because as a book it was (again) very good. Atwood is a very, very talented writer, and it’s hard not to sucked into her stories. Bodily Harm tells the story of a young journalist who undergoes a major break-up all the while recovering from breast cancer. To cope, she takes a trip to a Caribbean island on the premise of writing a travel piece, all the while looking to disappear for a short time. Instead, she’s unwillingly sucked into the island’s political life, which is on the verge of revolution. She meets a handsome American, has an affair, and then…

Well, I don’t want to give away the story, but you get the picture. All that being said, this book just felt … shrug-OK-shrug … to me. Again, it was good. But, the entire time, I kept asking myself, “Why do I care about this?” This was definitely written to be a romantic thriller, and even if it’s a literary romantic thriller, that is a genre to which I am largely ambivalent. I’m glad this book was written well – my previous attempts with thrillers have ended badly because of poor writing – but thrillers just don’t excite me. Well, I can get excited over thrilling books, but when that standard “thrill factor” is the impetus behind the entire novel, I can’t muster up the energy to care. It’s like, I need something else on top of the thrills.

My attempt to explain my ambivalence is a little muddled, but there it is. I will say two more things about this book, though:

  • The back of this book notes that the main character discovers something about love during the course of this book, and I couldn’t figure out what that was. Her break-up was bad, and it leaves her scarred and confused about how she should interact with men. But I don’t see how her fling on the island helps any, and the story ends without much closure.
  • About halfway through the book, I had to double check when this book was written (1981, FYI) because I was having the hardest time identifying when it was taking place. The 90’s? The 80’s? Did it matter? Not really, but then the journalist spends so much time talking about the “trend pieces” she writes – and they were all pretty weird and strange – that not knowing just drove me nuts.

But you see, when I saw 1981, I figured that this was taking place in the late 70’s or early 80’s, but that almost made me feel more distant toward the story. I felt like Atwood wrote this story as a “now” piece: she wrote for the audiences reading it RIGHT THEN, and so only reading it in this context allows you to fully connect with her characters, the times, etc. But I don’t feel that Atwood wrote this to serve as a “classic”, enduring-type story. And so, reading it in 2014 (and having not been alive in 1981), I feel like I’m reading from the sidelines. I feel left out of the lingo, and yet, I don’t really care to learn it (it is just 1981…we’re not talking a major historical moment in time).

Oh well. I’m looking forward to reading Atwood’s BIG books, even if this book wasn’t all that I was expecting.

 

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