My contribution to Margaret Atwood Reading Month
“…almost nobody here is who they say they are at first. They aren’t even who somebody else thinks they are. In this place you get at least three versions of everything, and if you’re lucky one of them is true. That’s if you’re lucky.”
Once more I abandon myself into the accomplished hands of Margaret Atwood – on this occasion for Margaret Atwood Reading Month, an annual celebration by those in the book blogging community who admire her work.
For this event I scoured my shelves for an Atwood novel I had yet to read, eventually alighting upon a 1981 political thriller; a book apparently informed by a visit the author made to the West Indies in 1980, which enabled her to spend time on Saint Vincent listening to tales of dubious goings-on.
Bodily Harm tells the story of Rennie Wilford, a young journalist specializing in fashion and lifestyle pieces who accepts a ‘fun in the sun’ type assignment on the Caribbean island of St Antoine. Having recently lived through a shattering experience that is still at the forefront of her mind, she hopes a working holiday will allow her to make a break from her past and recuperate in a peaceful and stress-free environment.
It takes little time for the naive Rennie to find herself embroiled in a deadly world of corruption, treachery and brutality where nobody is who they claim to be. From the fishy politician Dr Minnow who tells her “blood is news”, to the over-friendly Laura, and the “burnt-out Yankee” Paul, whom she suspects of smuggling dope, everyone she meets appears to be implicated in something unsavoury, and they all have an opinion about her ‘real’ motives for being there. St Antoine, it seems, is more abode of the damned than tropical paradise.
As we have come to expect from Atwood, she writes here with wit, irony and intelligence. Rennie’s story is delivered in fragments, some of which advance the plot while others are rendered in flashbacks to her past. Although, in my opinion, Bodily Harm isn’t one of her great novels, it is nevertheless a well-crafted, highly readable exploration of lust for sexual and political power; and the ending, despite a certain ambiguity, is far from dissatisfying.
For those who enjoy such details: I acquired my green-spined Virago Modern Classics copy of this novel for £3.00 from Oxfam. It was in a very good condition with only the name of one previous owner (“Helen Jones 21.5.88”) inscribed on the first page. The front cover shows Pablo Picasso’s ‘La Lecture (1934)’.
NB Margaret Atwood Reading Month is a literary event organized by Naomi at Consumed by Ink and Marcie at BuriedInPrint. Throughout the month of November participants read and review Atwood’s work (including her journalism, fiction, poetry and comics), take part in planned events or simply concentrate on a single piece of her writing.