Posted by: Mish | January 23, 2009

Bodily Harm

Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm is the story of a journalist whose life has started fall apart. To recuperate, Rennie flies to the Caribbean to write a travel and “lifestyles” article, but her vacation turns into a living nightmare. Visiting during a time of political turmoil, she finds herself in a society where neither Canada’s rules nor her own apply. Suddenly, Rennie is forced to reevaluate her perspective on life and its problems.


  • Power- individual, sexual, political
  • Societal standards- decency vs indecency, rules
  • Self-discovery- confronting fears, one’s own strength
  • Duty- to family, to one’s country, to one’s patient
  • Relationships- family, romantic, sexual

Atwood is excellent at character development and imagery. At times Bodily Harm is comical, but for the most part it’s dark and violent. Rennie’s nightmare vacation parallels her physical and emotional battles with cancer. Flashbacks are interspersed throughout the story, which occasionally made things confusing. It took awhile to catch on that the past is distinguished by the lack of quotation marks and other punctuation, mainly because the present doesn’t begin until page 28. Overall, Atwood’s writing is good.

While browsing shelves for a second Atwood to try, a friend pushed Bodily Harm on me. Expecting something as good or as hard to put down as The Handmaid’s Tale, I was sorely disappointed. Bodily Harm was slow going until about a third of the way through at page 100, when it finally picked up. Possibly, Atwood improved her writing between 1981 and 1985, when the acclaimed dystopian novel was written. Overall, Bodily Harm was an okay read. There have to be better books by Atwood out there- like The Handmaid’s Tale.



  1. I haven’t read Atwood beyond The Handmaid’s Tale (which I had to read for high school, so didn’t particularly enjoy it or the done-to-death literary analysis), but I’ve heard good things about Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin, both written in the early ’00s. Probably worth checking those out.

  2. I would have preferred reading that than The Grapes of Wrath or Moby Dick, both of which I skipped and skimmed.

    Thanks, I’ll keep them in mind if I decide to read more Atwood, later down the distant road.

  3. It could be that I really enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath and Moby-Dick because I didn’t read them for school. =) Still haven’t proven that theory though, as I haven’t touched my literature required-reading ever since! Maybe it’s time to revisit them…

  4. Maybe now that I’m much older (and it’s not assigned) maybe they’ll make for better reading. With so much other reading on my list, I’m not too tempted to see.

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