I stumbled upon Margaret Atwood by pure accident years and years ago as a result of my past addictions with all things dystopian. I thoroughly enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale and, as a burgeoning feminist, loved stumbling upon a female novelist that did not devote herself to romance or YA fiction.
Joan Foster, poet by day and romance novelist by night, has just faked her own death and fled to Italy, ready to commence a new life. The book is a first person narrative which, through flashbacks, tracks the life of the main character, from childhood up until present day, in all it’s morbidly funny and tragic glory.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Here is Mara waxing poetically about yet another character-centric novel. Well, I am guilty as guilty can be, but hear me out here. If you are a woman, I think this book will speak to you on some level. I know, #notallwomen. However, I submit, for your consideration, the following 3 points:
Mother-daughter relationships: The first part of the novel focuses on Joan’s fraught relationship with her mother, whom attempts to control the household and harasses her about her weight. In turn, Joan antagonizes her as much as possible and seeks refuge in her fulled figure and fashionable aunt who becomes her get out ticket.
Romantic fantasies: Joan is constantly in search of her perfect relationships and she goes from being a mistress to a Polish count to marrying a cold political activist on whom she cheats on with an artistic type. Joan is constantly unfulfilled and unhappy, forever chasing all potential avenues that might lead to her desired romance novel fairytale.
Reinvention: This motif is incredibly prevalent in the Lady Oracle. Joan Foster hops from intrigue to intrigue, completely ignoring and erasing her previous selves. It all starts with her shedding many pounds and taking her dead aunt’s name before fleeing to England and it snowballs from there. Alas, her past starts catching up with her and it proves to not be as easy to shake as it once was.
The issue with novels like Lady Oracle is that they have to be well written enough to lure you in and make you be invested in the character. Thankfully, Margaret Atwood reminds us why she is possibly the greatest living Canadian author by manages to do just that. There is no expectation that you will love Joan Foster. I actually don’t think you can because, overall, she just feels hollow and adrift, at odds with the title of the book itself. Her personality splinters into so many different identities and she loses her sense of self in the process. Joan’s life is an extreme version of how we all play different roles in different situations, become different things for different people, day in, day out. Most of us grow out of it or, rather, grow into ourselves, find out who we are and choose the people and life that suits us. The ending is left open for Joan.
Overall, I give this book 4.5 out of 5 new beginnings.