Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing

Cover of "Surfacing"

Cover of Surfacing

I am not sure what to make out of Margaret Atwood’s books. In The Handmaid’s Tale, I like her. Other times, in The Cat’s Eye, she scares me.

Surfacing was a long, introspective narrative that made me feel as if I was getting into the protagonist’s head and then my own. Because a book is a reflection of the mirror. Whatever letters that I tongue, inhale and breathe out as words, I do so with my entire being, my entire existence weighing upon it. Our words are not light, contrary to what you may think. Our history gets in the way of each reading (and therefore, an ahistorical reading is, I think, impossible to achieve).

When the female protagonist had mood swings, I got swung around as well. Up and down. It’s never a pretty sight. I thought I left that part behind me when I was still in university, the part that’s unnecessarily deep and dysfunctional. Or did I never possess it in the first place? Reading does that to you: it turns the screw in your mind. The turn of the screw, tightening.

The book’s title may be Surfacing, instantly conjuring an image of one coming out from below the water, breaking the surface, gasping for air? but I found myself surfacing on the other side – within myself. I felt like there was a worm in my head, together with the screw. And I would never be able to get them out until I’ve come to the end of the book. Last page.

Surfacing is no narrative about a lady, a twenty-year-old who forgot her history, who denied and repressed it. Her story. History. Puns are so easy. So easy to read Surfacing as a feminist book because that was probably what it was back in 1979, when it was first written. But never mind authorial intention. Never mind that I read a book that exhibited similar themes (language, silence, returning to the animal state) before I came across Surfacing. For all I know, that author may have read Atwood and was predisposed to carry the theme forward.

But because I already have, so it became too tempting for me to not treat the book as such. It’s too easy a way out of the forking gardens. No. It’s a manual on how to fish that worm out of you. It’s catharsis.

Going through the book was, for me, tough, and in the end, the narrative becomes her story instead as all rationality break down. Near the end, I couldn’t help but fall asleep because I was so worn out from work. And on the cusp of sleep, that half-awaken state between rationality and irrationality where nightmares troll, I wrote this post.

P.S.: I’m straddling two URLs now, this and wordsbytony.wordpress.com. Thought I should let you know.

Stoicism

‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ -Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher