The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman

by Margaret Atwood

Paperback(Reissue)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385491068
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/1998
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 191,507
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson. 

www.margaretatwood.ca

Hometown:

Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario

Education:

B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Read an Excerpt

1
 
 
I know I was all right on Friday when I got up; if anything I was feeling more stolid than usual. When I went out to the kitchen to get breakfast Ainsley was there, moping: she said she had been to a bad party the night before. She swore there had been nothing but dentistry students, which depressed her so much she had consoled herself by getting drunk.
 
“You have no idea how soggy it is,” she said, “having to go through twenty conversations about the insides of peoples’ mouths. The most reaction I got out of them was when I described an abscess I once had. They positively drooled. And most men look at something besides your teeth, for god’s sake.”
 
She had a hangover, which put me in a cheerful mood – it made me feel so healthy – and I poured her a glass of tomato juice and briskly fixed her an Alka- Seltzer, listening and making sympathetic noises while she complained.
 
“As if I didn’t get enough of that at work,” she said. Ainsley has a job as a tester of defective electric toothbrushes for an electric toothbrush company: a temporary job. What she is waiting for is an opening in one of those little art galleries, even though they don’t pay well: she wants to meet the artists. Last year, she told me, it was actors, but then she actually met some. “It’s an absolute fixation. I expect they all carry those bent mirrors around in their coat pockets and peer into their own mouths every time they go to the john to make sure they’re still cavity- free.” She ran one hand reflectively through her hair, which is long and red, or rather auburn. “Could you imagine kissing one? He’d say ‘Open wide’ beforehand. They’re so bloody one- track.”
 
“It must have been awful,” I said, refilling her glass. “Couldn’t you have changed the topic?”
 
Ainsley raised her almost non- existent eyebrows, which hadn’t been coloured in yet that morning. “Of course not,” she said. “I pretended to be terribly interested. And naturally I didn’t let on what my job was: those professional men get so huffy if you know anything about their subject. You know, like Peter.”
 
Ainsley tends to make jabs at Peter, especially when she isn’t feeling well. I was magnanimous and didn’t respond. “You’d better eat something before you go to work,” I said, “it’s better when you’ve got something on your stomach.”
 
“Oh god,” said Ainsley, “I can’t face it. Another day of machines and mouths. I haven’t had an interesting one since last month, when that lady sent back her toothbrush because the bristles were falling off. We found out she’d been using Ajax.”
 
I got so caught up in being efficient for Ainsley’s benefit while complimenting myself on my moral superiority to her that I didn’t realize how late it was until she reminded me. At the electric toothbrush company they don’t care what time you breeze in, but my company thinks of itself as punctual. I had to skip the egg and wash down a glass of milk and a bowl of cold cereal which I knew would leave me hungry long before lunchtime. I chewed through a piece of bread while Ainsley watched me in nauseated silence and grabbed up my purse, leaving Ainsley to close the apartment door behind me.
 
We live on the top floor of a large house in one of the older and more genteel districts, in what I suppose used to be the servants’ quarters. This means there are two flights of stairs between us and the front door, the higher flight narrow and slippery, the lower one wide and carpeted but with stair rods that come loose. In the high heels expected by the office I have to go down sideways, clutching the bannister. That morning I made it safely past the line of pioneer brass warming- pans strung on the wall of our stairway, avoided catching myself on the many- pronged spinning wheel on the second-floor landing, and sidestepped quickly down past the ragged regimental flag behind glass and the row of oval- framed ancestors that guard the first stairway. I was relieved to see there was no one in the downstairs hall. On level ground I strode towards the door, swerving to avoid the rubber plant on one side and the hall table with the écru doily and the round brass tray on the other. Behind the velvet curtain to the right I could hear the child performing her morning penance at the piano. I thought I was safe.
 
But before I reached the door it swung silently inward upon its hinges, and I knew I was trapped. It was the lady down below. She was wearing a pair of spotless gardening gloves and carrying a trowel. I wondered who she’d been burying in the garden.
 
“Good morning, Miss MacAlpin,” she said.
 
“Good morning.” I nodded and smiled. I can never remember her name, and neither can Ainsley; I suppose we have what they call a mental block about it. I looked past her towards the street, but she didn’t move out of the doorway.
 
“I was out last night,” she said. “At a meeting.” She has an indirect way of going about things. I shifted from one foot to the other and smiled again, hoping she would realize I was in a hurry. “The child tells me there was another fire.”
 
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a fire,” I said. The child had taken this mention of her name as an excuse to stop practising, and was standing now in the velvet doorway of the parlour, staring at me. She is a hulking creature of fifteen or so who is being sent to an exclusive private girls’ school, and she has to wear a green tunic with knee-socks to match. I’m sure she’s really quite normal, but there’s something cretinous about the hair- ribbon perched up on top of her gigantic body.
 
The lady down below took off one of her gloves and patted her chignon. “Ah,” she said sweetly. “The child says there was a lot of smoke.”
 
“Everything was under control,” I said, not smiling this time. “It was just the pork chops.”
 
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Well, I do wish you would tell Miss Tewce to try not to make quite so much smoke in future. I’m afraid it upsets the child.” She holds Ainsley alone responsible for the smoke, and seems to think she sends it out of her nostrils like a dragon. But she never stops Ainsley in the hall to talk about it: only me. I suspect she’s decided Ainsley isn’t respectable, whereas I am. It’s probably the way we dress: Ainsley says I choose clothes as though they’re a camouflage or a protective colouration, though I can’t see anything wrong with that. She herself goes in for neon pink.
 
Of course I missed the bus: as I crossed the lawn I could see it disappearing across the bridge in a cloud of air pollution. While I was standing under the tree – our street has many trees, all of them enormous – waiting for the next bus, Ainsley came out of the house and joined me. She’s a quick- change artist; I could never put myself together in such a short time. She was looking a lot healthier – possibly the effects of makeup, though you can never tell with Ainsley – and she had her red hair piled up on top of her head, as she always does when she goes to work. The rest of the time she wears it down in straggles. She had on her orange and pink sleeveless dress, which I judged was too tight across the hips. The day was going to be hot and humid; already I could feel a private atmosphere condensing around me like a plastic bag. Maybe I should have worn a sleeveless dress too.
 
“She got me in the hall,” I said. “About the smoke.”
 
“The old bitch,” said Ainsley. “Why can’t she mind her own business?” Ainsley doesn’t come from a small town as I do, so she’s not as used to people being snoopy; on the other hand she’s not as afraid of it either. She has no idea about the consequences.
 
“She’s not that old,” I said, glancing over at the curtained windows of the house; though I knew she couldn’t hear us. “Besides, it wasn’t her who noticed the smoke, it was the child. She was at a meeting.”
 
“Probably the W.C.T.U.,” Ainsley said. “Or the I.O.D.E. I’ll bet she wasn’t at a meeting at all; she was hiding behind that damn velvet curtain, wanting us to think she was at a meeting so we’d really do something. What she wants is an orgy.”
 
“Now Ainsley,” I said, “you’re being paranoid.” Ainsley is convinced that the lady down below comes upstairs when we aren’t there and looks round our apartment and is silently horrified, and even suspects her of ruminating over our mail, though not of going so far as to open it. It’s a fact that she sometimes answers the front door for our visitors before they ring the bell. She must think she’s within her rights to take precautions: when we first considered renting the apartment she made it clear to us, by discreet allusions to previous tenants, that whatever happened the child’s innocence must not be corrupted, and that two young ladies were surely more to be depended upon than two young men.
 
“I’m doing my best,” she had said, sighing and shaking her head. She had intimated that her husband, whose portrait in oils hung above the piano, had not left as much money as he should have. “Of course you realize your apartment has no private entrance?” She had been stressing the drawbacks rather than the advantages, almost as though she didn’t want us to rent. I said we did realize it; Ainsley said nothing. We had agreed I would do the talking and Ainsley would sit and look innocent, something she can do very well when she wants to – she has a pink- and- white blunt baby’s face, a bump for a nose, and large blue eyes she can make as round as ping- pong balls. On this occasion I had even got her to wear gloves.
 
The lady down below shook her head again. “If it weren’t for the child,” she said, “I would sell the house. But I want the child to grow up in a good district.”
 
I said I understood, and she said that of course the district wasn’t as good as it used to be: some of the larger houses were too expensive to keep up and the owners had been forced to sell them to immigrants (the corners of her mouth turned gently down) who had divided them up into rooming houses. “But that hasn’t reached our street yet,” she said. “And I tell the child exactly which streets she can walk on and which she can’t.” I said I thought that was wise. She had seemed much easier to deal with before we had signed the lease. And the rent was so low, and the house was so close to the bus stop. For this city it was a real find.
 
“Besides,” I added to Ainsley, “they have a right to be worried about the smoke. What if the house was on fire? And she’s never mentioned the other things.”
 
“What other things? We’ve never done any other things.”
 
“Well . . .” I said. I suspected the lady down below had taken note of all the bottle- shaped objects we had carried upstairs, though I tried my best to disguise them as groceries. It was true she had never specifically forbidden us to do anything – that would be too crude a violation of her law of nuance – but this only makes me feel I am actually forbidden to do everything.
 
“On still nights,” said Ainsley as the bus drew up, “I can hear her burrowing through the woodwork.”
 
We didn’t talk on the bus; I don’t like talking on buses, I would rather look at the advertisements. Besides, Ainsley and I don’t have much in common except the lady down below. I’ve only known her since just before we moved in: she was a friend of a friend, looking for a room mate at the same time I was, which is the way these things are usually done. Maybe I should have tried a computer; though on the whole it’s worked out fairly well. We get along by a symbiotic adjustment of habits and with a minimum of that pale- mauve hostility you often find among women. Our apartment is never exactly clean, but we keep it from gathering more than a fine plum- bloom of dust by an unspoken agreement: if I do the breakfast dishes, Ainsley does the supper ones; if I sweep the living- room floor, Ainsley wipes the kitchen table. It’s a see- saw arrangement and we both know that if one beat is missed the whole thing will collapse. Of course we each have our own bedroom and what goes on in there is strictly the owner’s concern. For instance Ainsley’s floor is covered by a treacherous muskeg of used clothes with ashtrays scattered here and there on it like stepping- stones, but though I consider it a fire hazard I never speak to her about it. By such mutual refrainings – I assume they are mutual since there must be things I do that she doesn’t like – we manage to preserve a reasonably frictionless equilibrium.
 
We reached the subway station, where I bought a package of peanuts. I was beginning to feel hungry already. I offered some to Ainsley, but she refused, so I ate them all on the way downtown.
 
We got off at the second- last stop south and walked a block together; our office buildings are in the same district.
 
“By the way,” said Ainsley as I was turning off at my street, “have you got three dollars? We’re out of scotch.” I rummaged in my purse and handed over, not without a sense of injustice: we split the cost but rarely the contents. At the age of ten I wrote a temperance essay for a United Church Sunday- school competition, illustrating it with pictures of car crashes, diagrams of diseased livers, and charts showing the effects of alcohol upon the circulatory system; I expect that’s why I can never take a second drink without a mental image of a warning sign printed in coloured crayons and connected with the taste of tepid communion grape juice. This puts me at a disadvantage with Peter; he likes me to try and keep up with him.
 
As I hurried towards my office building, I found myself envying Ainsley her job. Though mine was better- paying and more interesting, hers was more temporary: she had an idea of what she wanted to do next. She could work in a shiny new air- conditioned office building, whereas mine was dingy brick with small windows. Also, her job was unusual. When she meets people at parties they are always surprised when she tells them she’s a tester of defective electric toothbrushes, and she always says, “What else do you do with a B.A. these days?” Whereas my kind of job is only to be expected. I was thinking too that really I was better equipped to handle her job than she is. From what I see around the apartment, I’m sure I have much more mechanical ability than Ainsley.
 
By the time I finally reached the office I was three- quarters of an hour late. None commented but all took note.

Reading Group Guide

1. Do you see a relationship between the kind of work Marian does in consumer research with the particular way her life begins to disintegrate?

2. Peter is afraid of being captured by a woman, of losing his freedom; Marian begins to feel hunted, caught in his gaze; eventually she even confuses his camera with a gun. In what ways can all the characters seem at once to be hunter, then predator, master then slave, subject then object?

3. Two parties take place in the book, the office party and the engagement party. Discuss what these parties do for the structure and development of the novel.

4. Sexual identity lies at the heart of much of the story. Discuss the role Marian's roommate Ainsley, her friend Claire, and finally the "office Virgins" play in helping define Marian's dilemma. Discuss the men: Why is Marian drawn to Duncan? Contrast him with Peter.

5. The novel is narrated in first person in parts one and three, third person in part two. What is the effect on the reader of the change in voice?

6. Margaret Atwood has described The Edible Woman, her first novel, as an "anti-comedy," with themes many now see as proto-feminist. Give examples of Atwood's clever use of food images throughout the book.

7. First Marian drops meat from her diet, then, eggs, vegetables, even pumpkin seeds. Can you point to the incidents that precede each elimination from her diet? How does her lack of appetite compare or contrast with Duncan's unnatural thinness, his stated desire to become "an amoebae?"

8. What is the meaning of the cake Marian serves Peter at the novel's end? What is the significance of her eating the cake?

9. Margaret Atwood is a writer who often plays with fairy tale images in her work. "The Robber Bridegroom" (which she much later turns on its head with The Robber Bride) was likely an inspiration for The Edible Woman: the old crone warns the bride-to-be " . . . the only marriage you'll celebrate will be with death . . . When they have you in their power they'll chop you up in pieces . . . then they'll cook you and eat you, because they are cannibals." What images of cannibalism does Atwood use? Do you see traces of other fairy tales in this novel?

10. At the time The Edible Woman was written in 1965 food, eating and weight issues had yet attracted wide attention as feminist concerns. Three decades later, in The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf observes that the obsession with thinness began to become a serious national problem for women America around 1920, coinciding with women's right to vote; studies indicate that today nearly half of American young women have had at one time or other had an eating disorder. What are the symbolic meanings of food, and why does it become the focus for so much anxiety?

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The Edible Woman 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
kpolhuis on LibraryThing 10 months ago
There is much food for thought in this book (sorry... I couldn't resist!). I have decided to read all of Margaret Atwood's books in chronological order so that I can experience her growth as a writer. I was impressed with this first book, and pleased with how relevant it seems to be today as it was forty years ago. I look forward to reading every other book she has ever read.
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I'm usually a little wary of high-profile Margaret Atwood. Most of her prose is entertaining, but gives of sense of effect more than depth.This book, however, I thoroughly enjoyed. The variety in her characters and their personalities, the pedestrian yet powerful situations, the social taboos (motherhood, eating disorders, gender roles) that she addresses all combine to make an exciting, fast-paced yet unpretentious fresco. I loved her unique feminist message presented in such a creative fashion. I will definitely remember this one to be a favourite.
actonbell on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Intriguing coming-of-age story in which a young woman named Marian comes to an important crossroads in her life. It's also a reminder of how drastically society's expectations for women have changed. In the end, Marian must discover how to be true to herself and live her own life, even if this means casting off others' expectations of her.I loved the symbolism in this novel, and found it to be an engaging read from the first page.
Meggo on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is Atwood's first novel, a story about a women slowly losing grip with reality. Written in 1969, the gender issues and stereotypes of the time make the book feel dated and somewhat stale. Still, Atwood is a wonderful writer, and the book paints vivid word pictures replete with emotion. The feeling of gradually increasing disconnectedness and loss of control experienced by the main character becomes ever more palpable, and I, at least, found the book heavy going, like reading whilst sleepwalking, in the latter third of the work. I would recommend the book only to hard core students of the era, or to Atwood fans, but many may enjoy it.
cassieguthrie on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It was relevant to me at 18 when I first read it, in my 20s when I re-read it, and again at 39.
opinion8dsngr on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Since her engagement to a man she doesn't really know or love, Marian's life has been getting a little strange; well maybe it's always been strange but now it's getting interferingly so! Caught between two major male relationships of her own in a world, a collectively surrounded by constant reminders of her gender, her feminine capabilites, and "her place" she has found that she cannot morally justify eating an increasingly large number of foods. She might even be turning into a vegan. The horror! While this book does have some witty lines and memorable characters is in not nearly as well written or interesting as some of Atwood's other works. Throw in a weird twist ending that doesn't quite work and you're in for a disappointing ride. I don't know if the book is this way because it was one of the first she wrote, but I am glad to see that her more recent ones bear much more style and content.
toongirl81 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
For a modern reader, Atwood's insight into gender politics seems both validating and depressing. Written in 1965 and published four years later, Atwood has carefully scrubbed this story nearly clean of time and place and as such it seems to exist in the ever-present. Following protagonist and sometimes-narrator Marian as she tries to create an identity for herself within a relationship, friendships, work environments, and society at large, I felt a general sigh of relief to hear some of the nuanced and impossible contradictions of femininity put into words. At the same time however, I was struck by how few moments felt "old-fashioned" to me, a reader under 30, which took me aback.In terms of storytelling and narrative structure, Atwood is always a champ--her symbolism here is as top notch as you can expect--but her strongest competition seems to be herself. I read this after recently finishing The Handmaid's Tale, and The Edible Woman has none of the compelling moments of tension or sense of purpose of the latter book possesses. I believe The Edible Woman was her first novel, and between the pages you can tell that here is a talent that's really gearing up for something. But that potential for greatness never quite plays out on the page. Subplots languish and characters fade in an out of being fully-realized. And in the end the whole thing seems to collapse under its own clever symbolism, as I walked away feeling like I read more of an allegory than a novel. Ultimately not her most satisfying work, but it still contains an important voice worth listening to, even 40+ years later.
lewispike on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I found myself really enjoying this book and staying up far too late to finish it but trying to think of how to explain why is really hard.The setting is 1960's Ontario and you live several months in the life of Marian who seems to be living the older dream of a woman's life (job for a while, then marriage, quitting work and being a decorative adornment for her husband and a baby making machine) but the closer she gets to saying "I do" the more detached from her body and gradually the world around her she becomes.She is surrounded by various well portrayed characters: the friend who really is just a baby-making machine now, despite her degree; the friend who wants to become the same, initially without a man in the baby's life; the variations on amazingly patronising men despite their having next to nothing else in common.And that, I think, is where it's really scary. This book was set around the time I was born but the society it describes is actually more alien to me than reading fantasy and sci-fi. Was it really like that back then? Jane Austen has feistier and more independent women, even the ones that just want to get married, than are portrayed here.That is part of the fascination, the rest is the lovely language at various points that suck you in so that whilst part of me was wondering if Marian was insane I could still feel her as a real presence in the world and follow that journey through this alien world of 40 years ago.
ladybug74 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I enjoyed this book. I like the way that Margaret Atwood writes. I couldn't quite figure out for most of the story if Marian was reacting to her feelings about being engaged, if perhaps she was pregnant and having food aversions, or if she was mentally ill. She definitely had some strange behaviors.
samfsmith on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Atwood¿s very first published novel, way back in 1969. A little awkward, but her promise is obvious. It has the Atwood style and feel about it, even though it is somewhat stiff.A woman, about to be married and give up her independence, feels as if she is being consumed. She stops eating. Plenty of symbolism, which seems a little heavy-handed at times, something that Atwood doesn¿t do in her later novels. It¿s also very slow to begin.But if you are one of her fans, like I am, by all means give it a read for some insight into the author¿s early years.
jlizzy on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Disturbing and engrossing.
lindawwilson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good; now in 2008 I don't remember that much about it, but I like all of Atwood's books
Bethumpd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll admit, for no good reason at all I'm biased against Margaret Atwood. However, I loved this book. the characters were interesting, enjoyable, and felt like people I actually knew.
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Awkward events start to occur in The Edible Woman after Marian McAplin and Peter, her boyfriend of less than a year, get engaged. Canadian author Margaret Atwood uses this matter to depict women's rebellion against the male-dominated society in the 1960's. When Marian becomes engaged she disassociates herself from her friends, plans to quit work after she gets married, and allows Peter to dictate their relationship. Marian becomes overwhelmed. She loses her voice and the ability to tell her own story. It is from here that Book Two begins, and the story switches from first person to third person. This switch is a reflection of Marian's relationship with Peter in which she, as a person, is disappearing. In my mind, the switching of narrators took away from the story. I found it confusing not knowing Marian's thoughts, as I got used to that during Book One. Marian is the reason I liked this book, because her voice rings so clear when she is narrating. Not only does she make the reader see the things she sees, she also makes the reader feel the things she feels. There's a lot more going on than the engagement issue, and Marian is sure to tell the reader about it. When Marian ignores the consuming nature of marriage she finds herself rejecting food. Food acts as a metaphor for her rejection of the male-dominated society. The Edible Woman is rich in metaphor and irony. There were some metaphors that I did not fully understand until I finished the entire novel and it would have been nice if they were evident earlier. As I read, I was torn about my true feelings towards the book. At times I found myself lacking interest due to some of the characters being one dimensional. The one character that kept me interested was Marian. I wanted to keep reading to see what twist her life would make next. It was challenging at times to stay connected, as Atwood pulled the reader in so much and tried to put you in Marian's place. Society today is much different and I found it hard to connect with Marian and her emotions at times. In general, I give a lot of credit to Atwood. This was her first major novel, and I am interested in reading some of her other pieces after finishing The Edible Woman. I really enjoyed the links between women, marriage, and society in an era defined by male executives that Atwood made.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Series like Ally Mcbeal and Sex and the City owe this book an incredible debt. Its portrait of a woman coming apart at the seams because men want her to be something she isn't is the first of its kind. As a book, it's deep but narrow. The characters are little more than ideologies with legs and arms, but they are nonetheless quite interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The premise of this book intrigued me; the book itself did not. The themes were poorly executed, the characters were one dimensional, and the prose was trite. I quit reading this book 2/3 of the way into it and just read the last chapter-the themes were reiterated and the characters lived happily ever after. Disappointing book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was the second book of her's that I've read. I loved every page,it wasn't a book that you can just read but one that you want to read. And of course you do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
recovering from anorexia, this book caught my eye and my morbid curiosity. i found i could relate alot to the heroine: being stifled in a buttoned up relationship, she slowly stops eating. it is a cry for help that not even she recognizes till the very end. oh, and the last few pages are the absolute best! atwood portrays a victorious and witty heroine, displaying the author's complete understanding of how surprising women can be! left me hungry for seconds.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Margaret Atwood is a superbly intelligent writer. Her themes are woven deep within characters, situations, and the words on the page. The Edible Woman was a novel that took awhile to read, because it doesn't leave you riveted to its pages, but over time, and especially after finishing it, I was left with the meanings behind Atwood's words. Even though I finished this novel a while ago, I am left with overwhelming images of what Atwood lays out within her words. Underneath her characters droll lies so much more. Recommended highly.