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Margaret Atwood: Surfacing
Surfacing tells the story of an unnamed narrator, an artist, who searches the wilderness of northern Quebec for her father, a botanist for a paper company, who has been reported missing (Atwood’s father was a forest entomologist who often traveled to remote regions of Ontario and Quebec). Her uncle thinks he is dead but she decides to go and look for him on a remote island where they used to stay when she was young. She sets out with her boyfriend, Joe, and another couple, Anna and David, (with whom the boyfriend is making a film). Very soon they are all having to re-examine their innate western cultural assumptions – the wilderness as a scientific laboratory, which can be studied and comprehended by rational western methods. Our heroine and her friends soon have serious problems in adjusting. The father is not there but they decide to stay on for a few days nevertheless. Anna and David’s marriage is on the rocks and, away from the city, the problems surface. Joe wants but does not get our heroine’s attention, while she looks in vain for the clues to her life she feels her parents must have left for her. Eventually she has a breakdown as she tries to come to terms with both her past and her cultural background. Only by stripping off her culture, can she regain herself. This book has been much criticised and I am not sure if it is because of its innate anti-Americanness (she calls a tree disease a disease spreading up from the south and we are left with no doubt what this disease is) or because it is not an easy, fun novel. There is no doubt in my mind that this, her second novel, already put her in the forefront of North American writers.
First published 1972 by McClelland & Stewart