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Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle

Joan Foster (named after Joan Crawford) is the boring wife of Arthur, a man who jumps from one left-wing cause to another. But, unbeknownst to Arthur, Joan is also Louisa K. Delacourt, writer of Gothic novels. And she also has other secrets. Arthur thinks she was the most popular girl in high school when, in fact, she was fat and ugly and despised. But she has produced a sort of poem-in-prose-RodMcKuenesque work called, of course, Lady Oracle and it becomes a huge success. Now everything will come out, all her guilty secrets. Her lover, Chuck Brewer, aka the Royal Porcupine, who is what we would now call a performance artist, threatens to blackmail her so she does what any sensible woman in her position would do – she fakes her own death and does a runner, specifically to Italy, more specifically to Terremoto (the Italian for earthquake!), where we find her at the beginning of the novel. Most of the book is taken up with a review of her early life, particularly the unpopularity her overweight brought her and the problems with her bitter and unloving mother, with only the assistance of Aunt Lou (whence her pen name). But once she moves into her Louisa K Delacourt personality and, particularly, once she fakes her death, the not always clear delineation between her real and fantasy life becomes even murkier, with terrorists, lovers and other adventures. Can the thin girl get out of the fat trapeze artist (the image she herself conjures one and one which is depicted on the cover of my edition)? Let’s hope so.

Publishing history

First published 1976 by McClelland & Stewart