Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood

Bodily Harm

ISBN: 0099740818

Number of Pages : 301
Genre: fiction, contemporary classic
Published: 1996
Bestsellers: the blind assassin, up in the tree

Synopsis: [From flipkart]
Rennie Wilford, a young jounalist running from her life, takes an assignment to a Caribbean island and tumbles into a world where no one is what they seem. When the burnt-out Yankee Paul (does he smuggle dope or hustle for the CIA?) offers her a no-hooks, no strings affair, she is caught up in a lethal web of corruption.

Nightflier speaks:
I have been wanting to read an Atwood novel for months, and finally through some chance unavailability of other books in my reading list, 'bodily harm' came my way.

It had been ages since I read a sensitive thriller, with the flavors of the carribean. The plot is pretty straightforward, Rennie, a lifestyle journalist who is going through a life crisis unlike anyone (cancer) decides to get away from her defined world and takes a vacation of sorts on an island near Barbados. She gets entangled in a massive local event and her life changes forever.

Throughout the book, there is a surrealism, as if walking through Rennie's dreams. Rennie after having struggled for her body from the cancer, goes a metamorphosis which liberates her. Opens her to a reality from an altogether different plane. I got so engrossed in Rennie that I could literally feel the pangs she felt, of not knowing herself anymore, of her condition, of her relationships, of her growing up. 
This is my first Atwood, but I can say that she deals with emotions like a charm. She digs so deep that you feel what the character must be feeling. Also there is a haunting sense to all the characters. We see them through Rennie's eyes (who is undergoing a massive identity crisis because of the disease). Hence the characters remain a fling of sorts, we often meet at foreign places and later forget about.

There is also a touch of feminism in the book. All the females are starkly independent, can fend for themselves despite being vulnerable. She portrays this so beautifully and sensitively, that the book doesnt feel like badgering you with women issues. That I feel is a welcome kind of writing.
Also another sensitive issue of politics and government is handled in the book. It is not detailed, but considering it is through the eyes of a traveler, the treatment is justified. 

All in all, a different and welcome read. Took me time to pick up pace, but it did grow on me later.

Rating : 4/5
Price : 350 (flipkart)


  1. margret atwood!!!
    i have studied many of her environmentalist and often equates nature with woman;who searches for her own identity and asserts it.
    in between grt review.

  2. i am studying atwood's poems this year! :) should pick this up soon. good review..plz add a picture of the book too. thanks. :)

  3. aishwarya: I sort of envy you :) getting to study her poems..I have read quite a few.

    Arpita: more envy! her prose is as good as her poetry! added the book image :)

  4. Thank you very much for bringing Margaret Atwood on to ALOP, Nightflier. I remember you reviewed some Marquez novels too. You seem quite erudite.

    But I'd also say, you've started your Atwood reading with a wrong book; because this novel doesn't quite tell you about the nature of Atwood's writing. If you read more of her books, it's fine, you'll get it. But if you don't, the reading of this book will leave you with a foggy idea of Margaret Atwood and her literary world, and work.

    No doubt, this is a great novel where Atwood basically explores issues of power—both political and sexual, human compassion and isolation, and survival. (All of these are Atwood's major interests, and are intrinsic to her work.) But to sense, and grasp the caliber of this great prolific writer, I believe study of these five novels is mandatory: The Blind Assassin, The Year of the Flood, Oryx and Crake, The Handmaid's Tale, and Cat's Eye.

    And yes, you got it right— "There is also a touch of feminism in the book." Not only in this book, in all of her novels female characters take more important roles than male characters. But even though she voices strong feminist themes through, basically, her novels— they are not your typical feminist novels. :-)

    Coming back to Bodily Harm again— yes, the absence of a chronological narrative thread makes it a little confusing in the beginning. (Especially for someone who's new to Atwood's style.) In fact, the whole book goes back and forth between the different story lines and narrative threads. But once you're aware of the device, the flow of the book is marvelous to behold.

    I thank you further for giving me the chance to post a long comment.

  5. Wow RKP!
    I really wanted to read the blind assassin, but this was the only Atwood available in my library.
    Nevertheless I need to read her more.
    And yes I did feel like putting this one down because of the narration, but as I progressed ahead, I realized the surrealism of the narration (for the most of the part I thought the book was through the eyes of a drugged Rennie) and then it wasnt an issue.
    I am glad you wrote such an elaborate comment! And about being/not being erudite, I read equally shit books too. Just dont bring them over to ALOP :D

  6. I have always loved Atwood as a writer. Love the way she writes and build her characters. For me it has to be The Robber Bride and The Blind Assassin that hits the spot when it comes to her writing.

    Thanks for this review. Must pick up this one soon.

  7. @Nightflier,

    I understand your issue with the narrative technique at the beginning. Also, interspersed with all of this narrative are the long first-person monologues, where Rennie is talking about her upbringing, sharing memories and all.... Anyway!

    P.S.: If you're eager to read more of her stuff and are unable to find, I can send you any of her books in any of these formats: .epub, .fb2, .UMD, PDF, and other text formats. If it is alright by you, let me know which format is compatible with your reading device, computer, or whatever; along with your email address. You'll receive them within a day or two.

  8. vivek : welcome :)
    RKP : sure. send epubs to yami(dot)gire(at)gmail(dot)com


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