A Woman on the Brink – ‘The Edible Woman’ by Margaret Atwood


This novel, written in 1969, cemented Margaret Atwood as one of the key feminist writers of the 20th Century, her other key book is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ which is a brilliant dystopian novel. This novel’s publication coincided with the rise of the women’s movement in North America.

The book follows Marian, a modern woman with a steady job, a group of cooing ‘office virgin’ friends, a neurotic and untidy flatmate and a perfectionist boyfriend who later becomes her fiance. As her life starts to fall into place, her marriage is planned and her flatmate has the pregnancy she wanted, she starts to fall apart. Her breakdown takes the form of a disassociation between her body and her self, she becomes unable to eat certain foods, slowly shutting out foods that remind her of her body. The only solace she finds is a selfish, neurotic, and intelligent English student she finds while doing surveys for her job. They grasp onto each other like they’re both on sinking ships. Marian eventually snaps at her fiance’s party and finds herself totally unable to cope anymore. She finished her breakdown by baking a cake of her own body and eating it with pleasure

This book is a brilliant and real novel about the pressure on women as they come to a certain age and hear the ‘biological clock’ ticking. Her female friends symoblise other elements of pressures on women. Her flatmate Ainsley, tricks a man into getting her pregnant and breaks down when she realises the child has to have a father figure otherwise it will turn into a ‘homosexual’. She wanted to be a perfect mother but can’t achieve this. Marian’s office friends demonstrate both the pressures on women to stay pure, in the group of ‘office virgins’, and also the pressure to settle down and stay settled in the older women in the office. She also explores gender stereotypes through characters who strictly adhere to them and those who defy their constraints.

Overall rating: 4/5



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