Margaret Atwood's fifth novel concerns Rennie, a
Canadian writer. Escaping demons, Rennie travels to the
Caribbean to write a travel piece. During
her stay she becomes increasingly mired in the
politics of the small island she has chosen for her subject. As the situation takes a turn for
the worse, she reflects on the failed relationships that drove her to
want to escape.
Bodily Harm's first half was weak. Atwood
hadn't yet learned to play to her strengths and there was too much
empty action. The only salvation was the main character's rumination on the flaws and
weaknesses of her former lovers; Atwood is
adept at rendering the inner lives of women. But there simply wasn't
enough of it to excuse the first, yawn-inducing section.
second half was much better. Things begin to fall into place,
stakes were raised, and Rennie stopped being a mere spectator
in her own life. My only problem with this section is one with the work
of a number of fledgling writers: she conspicuously avoided a stylistic
weakness. There is a scene where a group of men are going to fight
one another. Quite a lot is riding on this fight, and the reader has
been expecting it for the last few pages. As soon as the first punch
is in the air, Atwood switches to two of the characters walking down
the beach. The fight is over, and Atwood tells us who won, but she
doesn't describe it. Obviously she came to this section, maybe she
tried a few times to write it all down, but she eventually gave up. A
fight isn't like a sex scene, where it isn't at all important to know
what went where as long as you know what took place and the result.
Especially when so much is riding on this particular fight.
ending was very well done. Throughout the last part of the book Atwood
comes back to her greatest theme: power. More often than not Atwood's
characters remind one of Joseph K. from The Trial: someone has
immense, unjustified power over them, power that they do not fully
understand. Atwood's book can make you very angry, if you let them.
I would recommend this novel for someone who truly enjoys Atwood's work and wants to read everything she has ever written, but if you have a low tolerance for a slow build-up, it is to be avoided.