Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood

Life Before Man
Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going by previous reviews, I should be proud I even got through this book. It wasn't a chore to read, exactly, but it definitely misses a lot of what I like about other Atwood books.

The book follows the perspectives of three people. Nate and Elizabeth are married, but neither of them are happy about it, and they have an agreement to sleep with other people. Nate wants to have an affair with Lesje. Elizabeth is deep in depression because her last affair ended with the guy shooting himself in the head.

I'm not sure what the book was trying to say. There are messages about environmentalism, about life being better off before humans came along, about politics. As the book takes place in Canada in 1976-8, it whooshed right over my head.

I wanted so much to sympathize with someone in this book, to feel like their actions were justified within some semblance of a value system. But if these people had values, or mores, or anything resembling a conscience, I never saw it. Maybe that was the point, but it made the reading experience difficult to stomach. The only character I liked, I don't think I was supposed to, because Elizabeth hated her with a passion I didn't understand. Judging from the text, Elizabeth hated her Aunt Muriel because Muriel tried to instill values in her. It went beyond simply disagreeing with her perspective, though, and she alluded to abuse and maltreatment that I didn't see supported in the text.

The language, itself, is poetry, and, awful plot though it was, it was soothing to listen to on audio. The narrator sometimes took a plaintive, whiny tone for younger characters that irritated me at times, but dialogue was sparse, and most of the prose was long, eye-opening descriptions of a city and buildings I'll never see.

I can't see myself recommending this, except to people who like poetry and enjoy the train wreck effect of watching people make consistently poor decisions. I've consistently disliked books based on the premise of stupidity. I don't think these characters were stupid, exactly, but I do think they were self-destructive and made stupid decisions. So instead of disliking it, I'll just say that it wasn't my favorite of Margaret Atwood's books.

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