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Bodily Harm – Margaret Atwood



Posted September 1, 2016 by

Bodily Harm – Margaret Atwood – 1981


Reviewed by: Dave        Date: 1 March 2003


bodilyI enjoyed this novel on many levels. It is a great story, skilfully woven, laced with trademark Atwood satiric wit and all of the brand-name dropping you’ve come to expect: Drano, Holiday Inn, McDonald’s, Elastoplast, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bank of Nova Scotia, Chatelaine magazine, Ovaltine, Crest toothpaste, and not just soup, but Campbell’s Chicken Noodle. I love how she does this, it seems so… Canadian!

The strength of Bodily Harm is the way Atwood delves deep into the psyche of the protagonist, the young female Toronto journalist, Rennie Wilford. Flashback portions reveal Rennie’s history, connecting us to her narrow/stifled/religiously-hypocritical upbringing in backwater Griswold Ontario. It’s a history she resents. Flashbacks illuminate her relationship history also. We really get to KNOW Rennie, and the more light that Atwood throws across this life, the more Rennie emerges as someone unfulfilled at her core.

And now Rennie’s life is on the fritz. She is coming to terms with her partial mastectomy and the recent breakup with Jake, two problems that she imagines are directly related to each other. She becomes obsessed with the word “malignant” and feels that everyone dear to her (even her own body) is rejecting her. On top of this, someone has just broken into her apartment and, instead of robbing her, has left behind an ominous threatening message.

 Change of scenery is badly needed.

So Rennie accepts a Caribbean assignment to the island of St. Antoine, and now comes the part of the story that could be summarized by saying “Shoulda stayed at home!”

This “tropical paradise” is really an economically depressed dump! And her small-town Ontario naivete is no match for the shifty characters she meets on this island. She is soon intricately involved in the political turmoil of St. Antoine, and her trip ends up being everything BUT the paradise and recuperation she was hoping for.

 Smuggling, bloodshed, betrayal, malnourishment, imprisonment… forget emotional improvement, physical survival becomes the issue!

It’s as though Rennie goes to St. Antoine because of bodily harm from within, and finds that she must leave the island because of bodily harm from without. There’s more to the story than this for sure, but this is an interesting aspect of it. The island did nothing to solve her problems, but it certainly made her see those problems for what they were… a part of her life, but not the whole.

ReadLit Team


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