Surfacing - Oct-Dec 2008 - Rolling Discussion


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Surfacing - Oct-Dec 2008 - Rolling Discussion

Denna diskussion är för närvarande "vilande"—det sista inlägget är mer än 90 dagar gammalt. Du kan återstarta det genom att svara på inlägget.

okt 4, 2008, 1:15 pm

OMG, I forgot to start this thread before I went on travel - my apologies! Promise to post some opening comments later, when I have a chance!

okt 4, 2008, 8:44 pm

I don't think it's a problem, really:-) You're good to do it for us.

okt 5, 2008, 3:51 pm

Enjoy your traveling! Hope you don't mind, I went ahead and found some discussion questions. Went out and bought the book this weekend and I should be starting on it soon.

After learning that her widowed father has mysteriously disappeared, a young artist returns to the rural cabin in which she was raised. She is joined by her friends, a young married couple, and her estranged lover, all of whom who hope to make a holiday of this macabre event.

As the week unfolds, she combs the lake, woods, and cabin for traces of her father. Her search yields not only the answer to that mystery, but access to her long-dormant emotions, repressed memories, and her will to continue living not as a victim of the world but as a full and accountable participant. Her transformative week of hunting and gathering of clues to her identity yields a complex feast of danger, violence, infidelity, shattered allegiances, and secrets laid bare.

Questions for Contemplation or Book Group Discussion

1. Throughout the novel, we never learn the name of our narrator. Why might Atwood choose anonymity for her heroine?

2. This novel is replete with dis- and re-appearances: fathers vanish, babies are lost, marriages erode, long-banished memories return, pregancies occur. Discuss the implications of disappearing and reappearing.

3. Our narrator frequently refers to herself as an "accomplice": to the killing of the fish, to the accruing of "random samples" for the film. Over the course of the novel, she not only ceases her collusion but also becomes an active saboteur. What catalyzes this shift?

4. Early in the novel, the narrator attempts to draw clear battle lines: men versus women, the city versus the country, the Americans versus Canadians. In time, however, many of these opposing camps blur together: supposed Americans are revealed to be Canadians, Anna shifts her allegiance and sides with the men. What is the result of these new alliances?

5. The narrator must literally dive into the lake in order to dredge the swamp of her memory and recover her buried past. Throughout the novel, the lake serves as both a literal and symbolic centerpiece. Discuss its role and importance.

6. What can we see from the novel's discussion of "truth" or "lies?"

7. What clues in the novel suggest that the narrator is struggling to supress memories of an abortion?

8. What role does the discovery of her father's drawings play in her ability, as a daughter and as a fellow artist, to understand his life better?

9. Each of the two couples employ different strategies for wounding and communicating with one another. Do relationship strategies differ more on gender lines or from couple to couple? What are the distinctive strategies employed by each couple/person?

10. Does the heroine remain a reliable narrator throughout? Do her perceptions ever deviate from reality? At what point, if ever, do you discount her version of reality?

11. Does your opinion of Joe alter as the novel progresses?

12. Our heroine describes her habitual process of observing, memorizing, and copying emotions she has seen in others in lieu of having actual feeling herself. Discuss.

13. What is the role of animals in the novel? The role of technology?

14. In describing childhood games of hide and seek in the forest, the narrator recalls her fear "that what would come out when you called would be someone else". When she later escapes into the forest, she does in fact emerge transformed. What happens on her odyssey?

15. Consider this final manifesto: "This above all, to refuse to be a victim . . . I have to recant, give up the old belief that I am powerless." Does a shift in self-perception have the power to reverse one's destiny? What factors determine who is and is not a victim? What gives her the power to break free?

okt 7, 2008, 8:21 am

I will be travelling with intermittent access until this weekend, so I don't mind at all! Bad month for me to volunteer....

okt 29, 2008, 2:02 pm

I finished it a few days ago and I fear I may be kicked out of 'Atwoodians' for saying this - but I really didn't like it. I just don't think it was effective in portraying our narrator's troubled mind and the 'surfacing' of several truths. It was short but tedious (repetitive, annoying characters, cryptic) and I couldn't wait to finish. It definately seemed like an unpolished early novel from a promising writer -- but I understand it is critically acclaimed. So maybe it is just me.

Anyone else read yet?

okt 29, 2008, 2:27 pm

no fears, jhowell, it would be a darned boring discussion if we all liked the book uniformly! The mix does make for interesting discussion.

I have not reread it yet but hope to do so in the next few weeks.

nov 18, 2008, 9:34 pm

I won't read it until December, but most people I know who have read it say something along the lines of: "Hmmm, not her best." So I want to read it and see what that means. Is it lousy, or just different from what they expect? Someone liked it enough to put it in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

nov 19, 2008, 8:21 am

For the life of me, Nickelini, I can't figure out how it made the 1001 books list. I put my full review on LT, but I just can't make myself care enough to attempt to start discussion based on the above questions. Fortunately it is short -- so worth reading just to see what you think. I don't know, maybe I am missing something, but it sure seemed amateurish.

nov 22, 2008, 6:22 pm

I do want to reread it, but it looks like December now. I look forward to it. Someone on LT recently mentioned rereading it. She had liked it a lot when she first read it, not so much this time around, I guess.

nov 28, 2008, 11:36 am

I finished Surfacing last night and while I usually enjoy mulling over a book I've just read, I immediately went looking for a mystery and started reading.

I liked the book, there's a lot in there but I would agree, it's not her best. First, I think it needs to be placed somewhat in the context of the very early 70s when it was written or perhaps it's set more in the late sixties. Vietnam is in full swing. I say this because all of the 'killer' references. Somewhere in the book she says, in a story about her brother, that there are those who kill and those who are victims, and that there ought to be other choices. This is about wielding power, is it not?

I also read somewhere that Margaret Atwood sees this as a sort of ghost story (I'll see if I can find that piece). Instead of a traditional ghost, the ghost is a part of oneself. What do you think of that idea?

I'm not sure I find the discussion questions helpful as my brain is going in other directions. Do you think the protagonist is mentally ill or just doesn't cope well or what?

nov 28, 2008, 2:59 pm

#10 Hmm . . not sure about a ghost story. unless as you say is the ghost is some deranged repressed part of yourself that may 'surface.' As it it certainly surfaced in our narrator who to me was clearly mentally ill though certainly not unsympathetic. But I don't know - I was just not at all convinced or moved by the whole thing. I actually was laughing at our protagonist when she had her -- let see how shall I put it --her event.

Typically I am very receptive to counterculture - I am definately left leaning. But the almost strident anti-male, anti-establishment, anti-American tone to the novel was offputting to me. It lacked subtlety or persuasion -- almost like it assumed all readers were of similar ilk.

What about the novel did you like? I have been left wondering if I just missed something.

nov 28, 2008, 5:35 pm


by "her event" do you mean the ending? My reaction was a bit of WTF?

I did like it but for reasons not usual - I had a lot of sympathy for our unnamed protagonist (do we give things power when we name things?), but she's certainly not someone I could cozy up to . . . I admire Atwood's skill at being able to create such a mindset in a character.

I loved the setting and the attention to detail, how the protagonist related to it, how it often mirrored her internal dialog.

Did she not see a vision of herself underwater? (I will look for that Atwood interview...)

nov 30, 2008, 12:33 am

I haven't read Surfacing yet, but will start in the next week or so. I just wanted to say that the book cover of Surfacing that is on the group home page is way more interesting than the boring cover on my edition. I'm just a fool for an attractive cover.

nov 30, 2008, 6:22 am

I have to agree with others. It's my least favourite Atwood work.

I read it a while ago and didn't enjoy it. I hoped this time would be different but it wasn't.

I found the characters to be more like caricatures and couldn't believe in them. The men are particularly crudely drawn - one can't express his feelings, the other is predatory. Classic stereotypes of male behaviour.

One of my friends absolutely loved Surfacing and particularly liked the sense of a woman finding a sense of herself. I can see that, but in the end I just want to shout 'get over it and get on with your life' to the woman!

Also, I'm a city girl and I think I just don't understand people having a connection to nature!

nov 30, 2008, 8:06 am

Well, part of the connection is that her parents created the illusion of a peaceful world during the years of WWII when they were growing up. It seems our protagonist is looking for a similar safe place in the mental turmoil she has been living in. She certainly comes to terms with her reinvention of her past, but to 'find herself' as pure animal there in the end - did she have to become feral in order to go through a sort of evolution?

nov 30, 2008, 7:11 pm

#15 - Yeah, that end was just preposterous and melodramatic. Interestingly though, that was probably the only section where I sensed some of the writing skill I have come to apreciate in Atwood. It was much better written than the rest of the novel. But, f-ed up nonetheless. And did she really come out of that breakdown 'healed?' -- not necessarily the impression I got.

#12 - You know, I actually thought for a bit that she stumbled on her father's body down there underwater. It wasn't long after her dive that he "surfaced." But in all honesty -- I don't know what she really saw -- a vision of herself is as good a guess as any. Was it after that that she really started to break?

dec 1, 2008, 8:30 am

I'm going to be honest. I started this one a while back, renewed it from the library three times, kept it till it was overdue, and still could NOT get into it. There was just something about the writing style that made me feel like I was reading through a haze. I'll try to do better next time.

Redigerat: dec 1, 2008, 7:40 pm

>17 fannyprice: I think that style was intentional. I felt that also, but it fits perfectly with our main character. It's like being underwater, yes?

I've found the interview I was looking for and will transcribe bits of it sometime in the next couple of days. It will be piecemeal as the interview is about both The Edible Woman and Surfacing - it will be like separating conjoined twins!

Here's some basic questions about our main character.

Did you like her? If yes, why? If no, why?
What do you think the not-naming her is about?
Do you think she is mentally ill or just struggling to cope or something else?
What seems to have been her relationship with parents?
What part/s do her friends play with regard to her?
If you were to list a few things she seems to be fixated on (perhaps not the best word choice) what would they be?
Surfacing suggests someone is being kept under. In her case, under what and by whom?
In keeping with the title, at what point do you think the protagonist "surfaces"?

dec 7, 2008, 2:41 pm

Well, I finally got a chance to start this. I'm about one-third of the way through, and I have to say that while it has it's moments, overall I'm not thrilled with it either. Jhowell has the right word: "cryptic" . . . and so far I find it unnecessarily cryptic. For example, when they're going fishing, and she catches the frog for an "emergency weapon," I had no idea what that's all about and I found it distracting. Then a few pages she uses it for bait, which I've never heard of before (although I grew up around people fishing). I don't know, it was just kinda odd--and cryptic. Don't know why she wrote it like that. That's just one example. I find the tone and style sort of jarring and crude (not crude as in scatological, but as in unrefined).

One of the questions from the list stands out for me: 10. Does the heroine remain a reliable narrator throughout? Do her perceptions ever deviate from reality? At what point, if ever, do you discount her version of reality?

I can't find the exact part right now, but it's fairly early in the novel. She's mentioned her failed marriage a few times and I had the impression that she felt she had to leave, though I'm not sure why. It appeared that there was something wrong with her husband's behavior. And then she mentions it again and I realize that she was the one who was the jerk in the relationship. So yeah, early on I didn't trust her. But I think unreliable narrators make for a more interesting story, so I'm okay with that.

dec 7, 2008, 9:38 pm

I agree about the unreliable narrator sometimes making more interesting stories. As I mentioned before, she uses a fair bit of war language throughout the book, I think that's what the frog thing was.

dec 8, 2008, 5:23 pm

I just finished reading the novel- and I was struck by the very 1970's references- the very strident anti-American feelings, the attitudes of male-female relationships-the hidden fact of abortions- I did feel as if i was reading a museum piece of the 1970's.
What was interesting were the details of respecting nature-very contemporary. I am pretty sure that I read this novel many years ago. The end was a little over the top for me.

dec 9, 2008, 10:16 am

>21 torontoc: torontoc, yes, I felt that too! (that might be my age showing)

The wikipedia entry on the book touches on several themes: Separation, Madness, Feminism, and Language & the Return to Nature. I found some of it enlightening.

I think I picked up easily on the madness and return to nature themes (yes, even to the point where she wanted to become an animal), but hadn't thought much about language.

dec 9, 2008, 10:25 am

I finished it too--after all the negative comments I heard, I was really expecting to dislike it, but I didn't. Didn't love it either, though. As my sister-in-law describes it, its "odd." So there's my review: "it's an odd book." But I'm glad I read it--it certainly was different.

Random thoughts about the novel: I agree about it feeling like a 70s museum piece. . . I was bothered by the male-female relationships and really didn't like the two guys. In fact, I didn't really like any of the characters. . . . I think there's something to the anti-Americanism other than simple anti-Americanism, but I have to think about that one. I think it represents something else. I'll post more as the thoughts come to me today.

dec 9, 2008, 1:10 pm

I wonder what Atwood herself thinks about this novel, looking back on it now.

dec 10, 2008, 10:35 am

Will post stuff from that interview, but it's a 1972 or 73 interview, I believe.

dec 11, 2008, 2:39 pm

From a 1972 interview with Graeme Gibson as published in Waltzing Again: New & Selected Conversations with Margaret Atwood.

*this is going to sound disjointed

Gibson: ...and there's another thing which I found in Surfacing which intrigues me, and that's guilt. That protagonist of Surfacing says at one point when she's talking about the dead heron: "The trouble some people have being German I have being human"; and she also, a bit later, talks about the cruelty of children, the cruelty that she partakes of. . .

Atwood: It all comes back to original sin, doesn't it? This is too complicated to talk about. / / It depends on whether you define yourself as intrinsically inoocent, and if you do, then you have a lot of problems, because in fact you aren't. She wishes to be not human, because being human inevitably involves being guilty, and if you define yourself as innocent, you can't accept that.

Gibson: Why does she define herself as innocent, or how does she define herself as innocent? Is it need because of . . .

Atwood: Ever since we all left the Roman Catholic Church we've defined ourselves as innocent in some way or another. But what I'm really into in that book is the great Canadian victim complex. If you define yourself as innocent then nothing is ever your fault---it is always somebody else doing it to you, and until you stop defining yourself as a victim that will always be true. It will always be someone else's fault, and you will always be the object of that rather than somebody who has any choice or takes responsibility for their life. An that is not only the Canadian stance towards the world, but the usual female one. "Look what a mess I am and it's all their fault." And Canadians do that too. "Look at poor innocent us, we are morally better than they. We do not burn people in Vietnam, and those bastards are coming in and taking away our country." Well, the real truth of the matter is that Canadians are selling it.

Gibson: You seem to imply in the book that there are two kinds of people. There are the Americans, not based on nationality, but based upon a kind of approach---like hunters, because the people they mistake for Americans turn out to be Canadians and they're the ones that killed the heron. Is there a distinction? Are there two types?


Atwood: In both of the books Edible Woman and Surfacing you have a choice of thinking the central character is crazy or thinking she is right. OR possibly thinking she is crazy and right. To a large extent the characters are crating the world which they inhabit, and I think we all do that to a certain extent, or we certainly do a lot of rearranging. There is an objective world out there, I'm far from being a solipsist. There are a lot of things out there, but towards any object in the world you can take a positive or a negative attitude or, let us say, you can turn it into a positive or a negative symbol, and that goes for everything. You can see a tree as the embodiment of natural beauty of you can see it as something menacing that's going to get you, and that depends partly on your realistic position towards it, what you were doing wit hthe tree, admiring it or cutting it down, but it's also a matter of your symbolic orientation towards everything. Now I'm not denying the reality, the existence of evil; some things are very hard to see in a positive light. Evil obviously exists in the world, right? But you have a choice of how you can see yourself in relation to that. And if you define yourself always as a harmless victim, there's noting you can ever do about it. You can simply suffer.

Gibson: And the protagonist of Surfacing, does she do more than identify herself as a victim?

Atwood: At the end she does. She refuses to identify herself as a victim, that's step one. Only if you stop identifying yourself as a victim, you know, fated by the powers that be, you can act.

Gibson: Right. Then she says at one point too: "If I had turned out like the others with power, I would have been evil."

Atwood: Yes, but you have to think of where in the book she says that.

Gibson: Yes, it was at the beginning, yes.

Atwood: Yes. That's a refusal too. the other thing you do, if you are defining yourself as an innocent, you refuse to accept power. You refuse to admit that you have it, then you refuse to exercise it, because the exercise of power is defined as evil, and that's like people who refuse to get involved in politics because it's dirty.

Continued sometime soon...stay tuned...

dec 14, 2008, 7:27 pm

More coming but I've been waylaid by an ice storm. As soon as my internet is back up I'll continue the transcription (I'm in a hotel at the moment).

jan 23, 2009, 7:43 am

I'll continue the transcription if anyone is really interested. . .

feb 3, 2009, 11:11 am

Yes Please?!!

feb 3, 2009, 5:30 pm

I'll second that "yes, please" (if it's not too much trouble), avaland.

feb 5, 2009, 2:38 pm

I'd also love to continue reading, but only if it's not too much trouble for you, Lois.

feb 9, 2009, 8:10 am

Ok. Now where did I put that book. . .

feb 25, 2009, 7:48 am

Believe it or not, I'm still looking for my copy of Waltzing Again. As soon as I find it, I will finish transcribing. Honest.

mar 10, 2009, 8:50 am

Don't laugh, but we had to move a lot of books around this weekend to clean the carpets and I found the book in a box . . . apologizies for the delay. Continuing. . .
p. 13 Waltzing Again as noted above.

Gibson: So at the end when she says that she must bea survivor---is that her phrase? something to the effect that she mustn't be a victim?---is she accepting then the responsibility of some power?

Atwood: Of action.

Gibson: Of action, which is a kind of power.

Atwood: Sure. Every time you act you're exercising power in some form, and you cannot predict the consequences of your actions entirely. You may hurt someone, but the alternative is closing yourself up in a burrow somewhere and not doing anything ever at all.

Gibson: Which is what at one point she tries to do. Now is Marian's revolt against the situation she has found herself acquiescing to comparable? Is she asserting herself in the baking of the cake and offering it to Peter?

Atwood: I don't know, nobody;s ever been able to figure that out. When writing the film script we had long conversations on just exactly what that means. Obviously she's acting, she's doing an action. Ip until that point she has been evading, avoiding, running away, retreating, withdrawing.

Gibson: Hiding under the bed.

Atwood: Yes, to begin with; secondly in refusing to eat; and she commits an action, a preposterous one in a way, as all pieces of symbolism in a realistic context are, but what she is obviously making is a substitute for herself.

Gibson: Again in Surfacing the protagonist says: "But I was not prepared for the average, its needless cruelties and lies. My brother saw the danger early, to immerse oneself, join in the war or be destroyed. There ought to be other choices." Are there any other choices?

Atwood: We'll out it this way. You're standing on the edge of the lake, right, and you can do three things. You can stay standing on the edge of the lake, you can jump in and if you don't know how to swim you'll drown, or you can learn to swim, supposing you want to have anything to do with the lake at all. The other thing would be to just walk away, but we will suppose that this is the entire universe.

Gibson: One of the things that happens to both of them {here referring also to the character in the "Edible Man"}, but more clearly to the woman in the second book {Surfacing}, in the popular phrase, is alienation or isolation, the deadening of sensibilities. I think it's towards the end of Surfacing, she says: "Language divides us into fragments: I wanted to be whole." Is this her attempt to be inhuman or to be nonhuman or to be like an animal or a plant?

Atwood: The ideal thing would be a whole human being. Now if your goal is to be whole, and you don't see the possibilit of doing that and also being human, then you can try being something else...there are great advantages in being a vegetable, you know, except you lose certain other things, such as the ability to talk. Life is very much simplified. If you think you're a watermelon, you don't have to do anything, you can just sit around. The ideal, though, would be to integrate yourself as a human being, supposedly. And if you try that and fail, then you can try being something else for a while, which she does.

mar 10, 2009, 9:09 am

Continuing (p. 14). . .

Gibson: By the end of both books, the women seem to have come a long way towards being human beings.

Atwood: Does anyone ever achieve it? If you define human beings are necessarily flawed, then anyone can be one. But if you define them as something which is potentially better, then it's always something that is just out of reach.

Gibson: In Surfacing there are the surveyors, the hunters, the // people who kill. One of the assumed definitions is that the Americans, not a nationality, but a state of mind, are the killers. And there are other people who aren't.

Atwood: OK, let's think of it this way. If the only two kinds of people are killers and victims, then although it may be morally prefereable to be a viction, it is obviously preferable from the point of view of survival to be a killer. However, either alternative seems pretty hopeless; you can define yourself as innocent and get killed, or you can define yourself as a killer and kill others. The ideal would be somebody who would neither be a killer or a victim, who could achieve some kind of harmony with the world, which is a productive or creative harmony, rather than a destructive relationship towards the world. Now in neither book is that actualized, but in both it's seen as a possibility finally, whereas initially it is not.

Gibson: OK, just one more question, regarding the unacceptable roles open to your characters in both books. There aren't many things in society which give anybody enough, and in many cases they're just filling time. They're just doing things. It's kind of busywork living, and the men tend to be either pompous, like Peter, a kind of meticulous pomposity, or they're like Joe in the second book who is an observer. Then if you scratch them, beneath the surface you find a sense of failure and a sense of being threatened.

Atwood: Yes, I don't think that's very unrealistic. Let's say that I think of society in two ways; one is simply the kind of thing that Western Industrialism has sdone to people, and the other is the Canadian thing, where men particularly have been amputated. Women haven't been amputated as much relatively, because absolutely they've been amputated a lot more, but they didn't have as far down to go, and Western Industrialism hasn't changed their lives that much. The ystill have some kind of connection with their own bodies, and the celebrated woman's role, although many people may find it aggravating, still is something to do. If you can't think of what you are suppose to do you can always have a baby and that will keep you busy enough. But some guy who is doing nothing but punching little holes in cards all day, he has no connection with himself at all, and guys who sit around on their asses in an office all day have no contact with their own bodies, and they are really deprived, they're functions, functions of a machine.

Gibson: And they tend to feel themselves as failure, at least the characters in your books, well, particularly Joe. And David.

Atwood: In a way. They tend to blame that on other people.

Gibson: And they feel put down by women.

Atwood: Yes, sure. It's all true. That doesn't seem any great insight on my part. It just seems a state that is fairly widely acknowledged. And all the things that you've been talking about are really just the jameon the sandwich, because the interesting thing in that book is the ghost; and that's what I like. And the other stuff is there, it's quite true, but it is a condition; it isn't what the book is about.

mar 10, 2009, 9:35 am

p. 16

Gibson: Your protagonist has returned, looking for her father and at one point she says that one of the things about her father was his quite remarkable ability to give the illusion of peace. She grew up during the war, not knowing about the war, and her mother and father had been able to give this illusion of peace. And her return, and the whole ghost thing, seems tied in to that. Peace and being in touch with the land.

Atwood: That's all true, but it.smuch easier for me to talk about the formal problems involved in writing a ghost story, which I've always been fascinated by. You want to talk about ghost stories?

Gibson: She sees her own ghost, doesn't she?

Atwood: There are various kinds of ghosts you can see. You could have just a simple straightforward ghost story in which somebody sees a ghost which has no relation to them whatsoever. You could have a sort of primitive myth in which dead people are as alive as living people and they're just accepted. Nobody is too surprised by it because it happens all the time. Or you can have the Henry James kind, in which the ghost that one sees is in fact a fragment of one's own self which has split off, and that to me is the most interesting kind and that is obviously the tradition I'm working in. But I wanted to write a ghost story for the same reason thatI'd like to make a good horror film. It's an interesting area which is too often done as pulp.

Gibson: I'd like to relate the ghost, the fragment of slef that is split off, to the society that is overwhelming her and isolating her, the victim thing. Because in some sense the father, the ghosts that she perceived, were not victims.

Atwood: That's true. And they aren't evil ghosts.

Gibson: And having perceived them, she is somehow stronger.

Atwood: I haven't worked this out. Again, it's like the cake in The Edible Woman; I just can't be that analytical about my own work. I could give you all kinds of theories as to what I think they're doing in there, but my guess is really as good as anybody else's/ I know by the logic of the book what they are doing, but I don't have a whole lot of theories about it. They exist. You can make of it what you will.

Gibson: She's accused at one point of disliking men, this is in Surfacing, and for an instant she wonders, but then she says" "The I realized it wasn't men I hated, it was the Americans, the human beings, men and women both. They'd had their chance but they turned against their gods."

Atwood: Everybody has gods or a god, and it's what you pay attention to or what you worship. And they can be imported ones or they can be intrinsic ones, indigenous ones, and what we have done in their country is to use imported gods like imported everything else. And if you import a god from somewhere else, it's fake; it's like importing your culture from somewhere else. The only good, authentic thing is something that comes out of the place where you are, or the reality of your life. // Christianity in this country is imported religion. The assumption of the book, if there is one, is that there are gods that do exist here, but nobody knows about them. Anyway this gets us into metaphysical realms. The other thing that the imported gods will always tell you to do is to destroy what is there, to destroy what is in the place and to make a replica of the god's place, so that what you do is you cut down all the trees and you build a Gothic church, or imitation thereof. The authentic religion has been destroyed; you have to discover it in some other way. How that fits in with the book, I don't know, but I'm sure it has something to do with it.

Gibson: We were talking about the irrelevance of society to the people living in it. In some sense, we're pushing it, but in some sense they're godless...

Atwood: They have gods. A kind of futile adjustment is probably the god. It used to be success. It used to be the individualist thing where you stomped on everyone and made a million dollars, but that isn't even the god anymore. The god is probably fitting into the machine.

Gibson: Somebody else's machine.

Atwood: Yes, somebody else.s machine. People see two alternatives. You can be part of the machine or you can be something that gets run over by it. And I think there has to be a third thing.

Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson from a 1972 interview "Dissecting the Way a Writer Works" (pgs 11-17) in Waltzing Again: New and Selected Conversations with Margaret Atwood, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll. Ontario Review Press, 2006.

mar 10, 2009, 9:36 am

I continued on to the end of the interview, whether any of this be of interest to all, I can't know (but I find it all pretty interesting).

apr 6, 2009, 2:52 pm

thank you! I think it's very interesting as well.

feb 12, 2011, 4:34 pm

I just read Surfacing, and while I am a really big Atwood fan, I didn't like it that much. So, I'm glad to know I'm not alone, and that I don't have to love all her books....sigh!