Rennie Wilford is a young Canadian journalist whose life, physically and emotionally, is falling apart. Breast cancer has left her with a partial mastectomy and her boyfriend has left her because he couldn't handle her illness. To get away from it all she decides to combine a holiday with writing a travel article and heads off to the Caribbean but the island of St Antoine turns out to be not quite the ' beachcomber's idyll' she is expecting. Instead she finds a lethal world of corruption and drug-running, political riots and violence ......a world where the naive Rennie finds herself struggling to survive.
Interspersed with the island action are long passages of first person narrative in which Rennie reflects on her childhood in small-town Griswold.....
" As a child I learned three things well: how to be quiet, what not to say, and how to look at things without touching them."Margaret Atwood attacks the narrow-minded and oppressive respectability of small communities with vigour and a great deal of dark humour. Funny at first as I could relate it to my own upbringing and the emphasis on ' being decent' and staying away from anything 'cheap and nasty' but as the story progressed I began to feel too uncomfortable to laugh. Rennie leaves town as soon as she can but she remains a victim of her childhood influences. She is a passive observer of life who does not see beyond the surface. She chooses to write superficial lifestyle pieces rather than delve deeper into the truth of more serious subjects. In her relationships she allows herself to be moulded and manipulated and treated badly. Even her 'island holiday' is an attempt to disassociate herself from real life but in the end is the place where in order to survive she is forced to confront reality.
Bodily Harm is not 'nice' reading and there are no 'nice' characters. I didn't like what I was reading but then I don't expect Margaret Atwood wanted me to like it. In many ways it is similar to The Handmaid's Tale but even more frightening because it's set in the world we know and not an imaginary future.
The writing is wonderful and the symbolism, particularly of hands and the sense of touch, is brilliant. It was compelling reading and I look forward to more of Margaret Atwood next year.
Canadian Book Challenge 6