Lost momentum – Bodily Harm, by Margaret Atwood, Book review

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Sometimes I’m not in a reading mind. It’s is rare, as usually my days are rather busy, and the only few moments I have time to read are treasured. And when I do have lazy days, I normally can’t imagine any thing better than to sit somewhere with a book.

And if I have “don’t want to read” periods, they usually last a few days, then I look at my TBR or go to the public library, and I fall in love with reading again.

It all makes that strange feeling I have had for the past 8 days or so seem out of place. I have plenty of time – a lot more than my schedule would have normally allowed had I not decided to turn my knee ligaments into flubber, and yet, I could not seem to finish this book I have been reading. Or read anything else. I’ve been a furious podcaster (went through the second season of Serial like it was a chocolate bar, it is so impressive), I’ve been listening to audiobooks while drawing or punching my computer when it doesn’t seem to understand what stats I want him to do, but sitting still and reading, my brain doesn’t seem to agree with. I don’t know why. Or rather, I suspect it is growing restless with all this sitting and waiting for my knee to recover, and reacts with a sort of “kid-with-attention-disorder-mode”.

Anyway, all of this to say, I am sometimes amazed at how your impression of a book, or the impact it has on you, is influenced by the situation or state of mind you are in.

At any given time, I would probably have thoroughly enjoyed Bodily Harm, by Margaret Atwood. It ticks all the boxes: It is about a woman called Rennie, a journalist going to a small Caribbean Island to do a “travel and style” type piece, fleeing a recent break up, recovering from a lumpectomy or mastectomy, and trying to get a sense of purpose in a life that is, mostly, failing her. It has Margaret Atwood’s usual style, so precise and just when it comes to unravelling Rennie’s internal monologue it feels like she is in anyone’s head, it could be your thoughts. It has a complex female heroine and a story line that grows more tense and dark as you go on. It is about lost and betrayal, as Rennie is betrayed by her body (recently sick), her career (going nowhere, or disillusioned), her past relationships, her surroundings in this Island she starts to feel trapped in, and herself, in so many ways.

So I should have enjoyed it. I really think my struggles with it are 90% due to this strange “don’t want to read any more” state of mind. Maybe I should give it another go, in the future. But I think it was also partly painful because of Rennie’s decisions and character, purposely -without a doubt – written so by Atwood, in a way that makes you suspend empathy. At first sight, you feel nothing but empathy for an apparently lost young woman, still recovering from cancer and a break up, travelling alone in a place she doesn’t understand. But Rennie’s internal monologue and poor decisions make it hard to do so, which is of course the more interesting choice by Atwood: it makes her a fully complex character, not just a symbol. She is more than a lost woman. Probably, though, at this time of demotivation, I would have needed an unconditional book, an easy story to step into.

As it is a book about travel to small places you don’t understand, and the feeling of being lost, and cheated, I think I will include it in my itinerary for the #AW80Books, even though I am reluctant to put it under “The Caribbean”, as this is not really a portrait of those Islands, rather a symbol for otherness and corruption – which absolutely doesn’t encompasses everything there is about the Caribbean Islands. Still, it  has a lot of reflections on travel, so I might put it under “travel writing”, which is a place in the mind – maybe even in the map, after all.

So there is a book, and there is a moment to read it. Those did not overlap for me this time. Would love to know what anybody else thought of it. Maybe if I re-read it in a while I will compare notes with myself. Until then, I will start looking for a book to put me back unto my reading saddle, any ideas?

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2 thoughts on “Lost momentum – Bodily Harm, by Margaret Atwood, Book review

  1. I’ve not read this, but I can really relate to that confusion of reading something you feel you should like but that you fail to connect with. I’ve also asked myself whether that’s to do with my not being in the right frame of mind, or whether the book just doesn’t speak to me like it seems to speak to the rest of the world. That said, It never fails to surprise me how different the reading experiences are in my book group, and sometimes wonder if we’ve actually been reading the same novel!

    Liked by 1 person

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