Marian McAlpin is a young woman living in Toronto with a wild roommate, a dull boyfriend, and a boring job. She’s just sort of floating along, not really in control of her life. She’s mostly waiting to get married.
Her job at a market research firm is a dead end. Even if she can move up the ladder, she’s not going to get far. She can’t see herself staying there, she balks at the pension fund, but doesn’t know where else to go. Her boyfriend Peter is an ordinary guy. She figures she’ll marry him when he asks. However, when he does ask something strange starts happening to her. Food suddenly disgusts her.
At first, it’s anything that drew breath, but soon it’s anything that grew and then pretty much anything edible! She wants to eat but her body won’t let her. Marian struggles to keep this secret from her fiancé who is sure to think she’s crazy, while trying to figure out how to stay alive.
This was Margaret Atwood’s first published novel and while people think it’s feminist literature, she prefers to call it protofeminism. According to her intro, the women’s movement wasn’t a thing when she wrote it in 1964 and she says she’s not clairvoyant. Ha! I agree. Although gender identity is explored in The Edible Woman, Marian seems to be going through an identity crisis. She’s not willing to enter into a conventional life, though she believes that’s what she wants. Her body is trying to tell her what’s what.
The thing is Marian doesn’t think she has many options. She doesn’t want to end up like the “office virgins.” She can’t be like Ainsley whose latest project is to get pregnant and raise a baby on her own. Peter and marriage is it, she thinks. Then she meets Duncan, a graduate student, who rejects reality. He makes up his own rules. She’s attracted to him because he’s unconventional. He reminds me of a cat. He does what he wants. If he wants to take a nap, he just lies down and takes one. And like a cat, he has people to take care of him, his two roommates, Fish and Trevor.
Marian, and the reader, get to see traditional gender roles rejected or discussed through the other characters. Clara, pregnant with two small kids, isn’t nearly maternal as her husband, Jeff. Ainsley declares that fathers aren’t needed to raise children and picks the most unfatherly of all men as an unsuspecting sperm donor. Len, who only dates teenagers (ew), gets angry with Ainsley for ‘seducing’ him, even though he thought he was seducing her. “You used me!” he declares, on the verge of hysteria. Marian herself is afraid that Peter’s personality will overshadow her own once they’re married. He really only wants Marian as an extension of himself. His reasons for marrying are because everyone else is doing it and he doesn’t want people thinking he’s a homosexual. Yeah, he’s a real charmer. All these personalities clash during a disastrous dinner party, where Marian finally comes to some sort of decision.
I enjoyed The Edible Woman for not only giving me a lot to think about but entertaining me. It’s a very funny story, really. Very clever with lots of odd characters. It’s very much a product of its time. I giggled over some of the old fashioned ideas. Clara is particularly funny when she says she can only drink vermouth- she’s pregnant at the time.
About the Audio: The book is narrated by Lorelei King. She has a pleasant voice and was totally believable as a young woman in the 1960s.