Synopses & Reviews
"A rich, subtle, deep, delicate, nourishing book. It's all joy, but it stays with you. She has things to tell us". -- The Philadelphia Inquirer
Joan Foster is the bored wife of a myopic ban-the-bomber. She takes off overnight as Canada's new superpoet, pens lurid gothics on the sly, attracts a blackmailing reporter, skids cheerfully in and out of menacing plots, hair-raising traps, passionate trysts, and lands dead and well in Terremoto, Italy. In this remarkable, poetic, and magical novel, Margaret Atwood proves yet again why she is considered to be one of the most important and accomplished writers of our time.
"A wonderfully unpretentious comic romp...a fine novel: inventive...funny, and a pleasure to read. -- Mordechai Richler
"A very funny novel, lightly told with wry detachment and considerable art". -- the Washington Post Book World
"Funny, poignant, and briskly energetic". -- Newsweek
"Automatic writing, costume Gothic romances, a John Stonehouse (staging one's own death while disappearing abroad), daubs of spiritualism, a rich fantasy life, and especially obesity recollected as atrocity add layers to a novel which is essentially shallow but delightfully entertaining and witty. Margaret Atwood, one of Canada's best and best-known novelists and poets, returns in Lady Oracle to the realism of her first novel, Edible Woman. Women's relation to food may come to be regarded as a sub-theme in her work, as her heroines' extremes of gluttony and anorexia are seen as protective if neurotic reactions to their untenable life situations. But seekers for symbolism and significance beneath the impasto of amusing satire will inevitably be frustrated here. 'The Scarlet Pimpernel,' she says to herself, 'does not have time for meaningful in-depth relationships.'" Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Joan Foster is the bored wife of a myopic ban-the-bomber. She takes off overnight as Canada's new superpoet, pens lurid gothics on the sly, attracts a blackmailing reporter, skids cheerfully in and out of menacing plots, hair-raising traps, and passionate trysts, and lands dead and well in Terremoto, Italy. In this remarkable, poetic, and magical novel, Margaret Atwood proves yet again why she is considered to be one of the most important and accomplished writers of our time.
About the Author
MARGARET ATWOOD is the author of more than twenty-five books, including fiction, poetry, and essays. Her most recent works include the bestselling novels Alias Grace and The Robber Bride and the collections Wilderness Tips and Good Bones and Simple Murders. She lives in Toronto.
Reading Group Guide
1. The specters of the circus Fat Lady and Joan's perfectly coifed mother are the twin specters that haunt Joan throughout the novel. How does each of these visions alter with each subsequent encounter? What does each represent for Joan?
2. Examine the parallels between Joan's life and the adventures of her Gothic heroines. How does Atwood use excerpts from the novel to illuminate turning points in Joan's own story?
3. Atwood devotes the first half of the novel to detailing Joan's childhood. How do her experiences surviving her mother, her obesity, and the torments she suffers at the hands of her peers affect her adult life? Her development as a writer?
4. Although Joan has long made a consistent living as a novelist and becomes a runaway success as a poet, she is still ashamed enough of her novels to keep them a secret from Arthur and is quick to side with the detractors who disdain her poetry. Why is Joan unable to accept and embrace her achievements?
5. "Nice men did things for you; bad men did things to you," is Joan's mother's motto. Compare the various men that dot Joan's life; do you find any truth in this syllogism?
6. In addition to Joan's own host of identities, this novel is laden with other secret dualities: Joan's daffodil manrescuer, her murderer-resurrectionist father, the Royal PorcupineChuck Brewer, and Leda SprottE.P. Revele. What is Atwood's purpose for creating this mosaic of multiplicity? Can truth exist when there are so many versions of each story?
7. "I discovered there was something missing in me. This lack came from having been fat; it was like being without a sense of pain, and pain and fear are protective, up to a point. I'd never developed the usual female fears," notes Joan soon after she's shed the hundred pounds. Obesity confers on Joan a certain invisibility. Discuss the implications of this phenomenon in her adolescence and later life.
8. Throughout her childhood, Joan views Aunt Lou as the only adult who offers her unconditional love, but it is Aunt Lou who makes her the most conditional offer of her life: she will inherit the money only if she loses the weight. What does this offer reveal about Aunt Lou and her relationship with Joan? Joan's childhood perceptions of Lou?
9. "I decided that passionate revelation scenes were better avoided and that hidden depths should remain hidden; facades were at least as truthful," Joan reports. Today, confessional memoirs are all the rage: the more outre, damaging, and abusive one's past, the better. From high-brow literature to talk-show television, the urge to tell-all is pervasive. What compels Joan to not only hide but fabricate her entire past ? Is her shame and compulsive secrecy personally or sociologically motivated?
10. "I'd given up expecting [Arthur] to be a cloaked, sinuous, and faintly menacing stranger . . . Strangers didn't leave their socks on the floor . . . I kept Arthur in our apartment and the strangers in their castles and mansions, where they belonged," claims Joan. How successful is she at separating her desires from her expectations? At compartmentalizing her romantic and domestic needs? What catalyzes her affair with the Royal Porcupine? Causes the breakdown of her and Arthur's marriage?
11. Although Joan claims to be seeking an entirely new, incognito life, she very nearly gives herself away by returning to a place where she is readily recognized. Does she run with the primary hope of being caught, like one of her Gothic heroines? Throughout the novel, Joan's frequent solution to her problems is flight. What happens in the few instances when she chooses to fight?
12. How does your view of the Resurgenites influence your view of Arthur? How effective is he as a husband, a political rebel, a companion and lover for Joan?
13. "The future," Joan claims, "doesn't appeal to me as much as the past, but I'm sure it's better for you." Ultimately, Joan resolves to disclose the secrets of her past in order to protect her friends. Do you believe this disclosure will enable her to begin living in the present? If so, what might her next step be?