Synopses & Reviews
An original and compelling work in which Margaret Atwood passes one womans bizarre life through the prism of her unique literary vision. The shy, awkward wife of a perpetual radical, Joan Foster is a formerly obese woman whose delicate equilibrium is threatened by the fact that the several lives she has lived separately and secretly are coming together and will be exposed. She is newly and notoriously famous as a bestselling author; she writes gothic novels under a nom de plume; she is having a hidden affair. Love, fear, understanding, suspense, sensuality, and humour - there is hardly an emotional current that is not touched in Lady Oracle
, and with a depth, vitality, and wit that are rare in any time.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
was born in Ottawa in 1939, and grew up in northern Quebec and Ontario, and later in Toronto. She has lived in numerous cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe.
She is the author of more than forty books — novels, short stories, poetry, literary criticism, social history, and books for children. Atwoods work is acclaimed internationally and has been published around the world. Her novels include The Handmaids Tale and Cats Eye — both shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Robber Bride, winner of the Trillium Book Award and a finalist for the Governor Generals Award; Alias Grace, winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and a finalist for the Governor Generals Award, the Booker Prize, the Orange Prize, and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and Oryx and Crake, a finalist for The Giller Prize, the Governor Generals Award, the Orange Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent books of fiction are The Penelopiad, The Tent, and Moral Disorder. She is the recipient of numerous honours, such as The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in the U.K., the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature in the U.S., Le Chevalier dans lOrdre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and she was the first winner of the London Literary Prize. She has received honorary degrees from universities across Canada, and one from Oxford University in England.
Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with novelist Graeme Gibson.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. The spectres of the circus Fat Lady and Joan's perfectly coifed mother are the twin spectres 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 man/rescuer, her murderer/resurrectionist father, the Royal Porcupine/Chuck Brewer, and Leda Sprott/E.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 outrageous, 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 not only to hide but to 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?
Discussion questions provided courtesy of Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.