• Leah Quinn

The Edible Woman – when you just can’t stomach your life.

Since moving to London a couple months ago, I’ve discovered long Tube journeys make for brilliant reading time.

When you’re busy and everyone else is scrolling through their phones, looking fairly morbid and soggy after getting soaked in the morning rain on the way to the Northern line, it feels pretty good to disconnect and open a book. Conclusion: I’ve powered through a lot of reading material in the three months I’ve been here.

Of course, I brought a lot of my unread, been-sat-on-my-bookshelf-for-ages books when I moved which results in my latest read having been a bit of vintage Atwood.

Published in 1969, The Edible Woman is Atwood’s first published novel, arguably inspired by her time living as a university student and young graduate in Toronto, Canada in the 1960s. Like all of Atwood’s work, it’s been called feminist by most but Atwood has always called it proto-feminist as, in her words, she was “not gifted with the art of clairvoyance” when she wrote it in 1965, a few years shy of the Women’s Liberation Movement in North America. However, as is always the Atwood way, I feel like Atwood is unintentionally feminist just through writing complex, moody and often problematic women. She never keeps to the virgin or seductress archetypes; we are all complex and confused and often act in ways we haven’t even figured out yet so God help the male counterpart in the story.

The Edible Woman (1969)

The Edible Woman is no different. As a young woman living as a university graduate in the city, I feel immediately close to Atwood’s Marian. Working at a mind-numbingly dull surveys company, dishing out questions to an audience of predominantly very bored housewives, Marian’s stuck in the stereotypical dead-end job. Living with her vivacious roommate Ainsley, you’re presented with two young women in the city in conflict with the world of propriety and expectations around them, personified by their judgemental landlady who lives downstairs. While Marian gets engaged to the very mundane and arguably bit-of-a-dick Peter for no other reason really than for something to do, Ainsley makes a grand plan to get herself pregnant out of wedlock to pursue her own goal of becoming a single mother in the sixties. Ballsy, if you ask me. Also, morally a bit ambiguous considering her chosen mate in question has no idea what he’s getting into.

As Marian stumbles towards married life, she finds herself seeing food with human traits. Suddenly, she notices the eyes on fish and the corpse in the hamburger. Whether it’s marital anxiety or her own fear of being metaphorically consumed by the wants and desires of her prospective husband, she quickly finds herself unable to eat.

At a similar time, she stumbles across Duncan. Matter of fact and drastically underweight, Duncan is an English graduate student of the university to whom she finds herself inexplicably drawn. While her relationship with Peter sours, there’s something confusingly comforting about Duncan’s dark perspectives that suggests sometimes the sensible option is the one you truly can’t stomach.

Angry at the lack of opportunities and confused about ones roles in a society that expects so much of you, The Edible Woman explores one woman’s nauseating treadmill towards marriage in 1960s Toronto.

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