"One the the most important novels that the 20th century," insurance claims Francine Du Plessix Gray on the weather-beaten green jacket of my Virago modern Classic version of Margaret Atwood"s Surfacing. Ns love that. Ns was 18 when I first read it. I wrote my name inside in my ideal ink pen and I was thrilled by that basic acknowledgement: the a novel by a woman around a woman"s spiritual journey can be important.

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Surfacing tells the story the a young Canadian divorcée returning to her childhood wilderness house with she boyfriend and two friends to investigate the loss of her father. Increasingly persuaded that he has actually drowned in among the vast lakes of northern Quebec, she dives deep in her search for him. The diving, the water, are so spookily described that much more than 20 years later I deserve to still obtain goose-pimples just thinking that it, and of the electrifying moment when she comes confront to face, under water, v a spectre native her very own past:

"I couldn"t let it out, it to be dead already, it had drowned in air. It was there once I wake up up, suspended in the air over me like a chalice, an evil grail and I thought, whatever it is, part of myself or a different creature, I killed it. The wasn"t a child however it might have been one, ns didn"t enable it."

Recovering the truth about her abortion and relationship through a married male is the catalyst for the most extraordinary metamorphosis in fiction due to the fact that Kafka"s Gregor Samsa woke up together a huge insect. The island exerts its elemental traction on Atwood"s nameless heroine, shredding the layers of her personality as she descends into madness - or mysticism. In this state, all the trappings of civilisation (and particularly femininity) space to be loathed and rejected. Even a hairbrush i do not care dangerous. "I recognize that the brush is forbidden, I need to stop being in the mirror."

From the age of six months Atwood was acquainted with the Canadian bush, accompanying her family and also zoologist father on research trips, living in a log in cabin "on a granite allude a mile through water native a Quebec village so remote the the road went in just two years before I was born". Two years before Surfacing to be published, she composed the poetry collection The newspaper of Susanna Moodie, mirroring on the life that the 19th-century Canadian pioneer v whom she feel an obvious affinity.

She has returned come the theme plenty of times, in short fiction such together her story collection Wilderness Tips and in her many recent novel Oryx and also Crake, shortlisted because that this year"s male Booker prize, collection in a future whereby the world has went back to a savage "wilderness" the a most unexpected and also unnatural kind.

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The wild, filthy, half-animal, demented character that narrates the last couple of chapters of Surfacing is a exceptional creation, someone whom the gods have actually summoned, a visionary that speaks to us straight from nature: "It does not approve of me or disapprove of me, it tells me it has actually nothing to tell me, only the reality of itself."

When the was published in 1972 the publication provoked debate amongst feminists about whether Atwood"s pantheistic symbolism and identification of a woman"s body with the pressures of nature reinforced a stereotype of ladies as earthy and instinctive. This currently seems a rather dim reading of a hugely smart writer. Atwood raises questions around the relationship of nature and culture only to present how false together polarities are. Even the fleeting spiritual vision she uses us is in the finish snatched back: "No god to help me now, they"re questionable as soon as more, theoretical as Jesus."

Thirty year on, i wonder why so few books space written around women"s religious quests. It"s no as if we don"t have actually a tradition of visionaries, nuns, saints and also heretics. In ~ 18, i was struggling to litter off mine Christian upbringing, v the strongest hesitation that ns was a budding atheist. Like most adolescents I to be exhilarated by the big questions: Why space we here? Who are we? Why can"t we obtain along?... How delighted ns was the someone choose Atwood existed, prodding at this matters v her large pencil, pinning them come the web page in native I can understand, words base in mud and also life yet full of light.

"This over all, to refuse to it is in a victim," says her heroine in the last pages - the most famed line in the book. I supplied to trill it come myself. It was a clarion contact to young feminists in the 1970s and 1980s. This days, teaching an imaginative writing to women who write frequently and also ghoulishly about their triumphant survival of rape, incest and other type of abuse, I doubt we may have actually taken the point too far. The worst criticism these writers can fling in ~ a female personality in fiction is the she is passive. In Surfacing, Atwood elaborates on her statement about victimhood: "I need to recant, provide up the old id that ns am powerless and because of that nothing I have the right to do will ever hurt anyone."

Rereading the novel now, at 41, Surfacing struck me as being less around feminism and more about what it way to be human. Who or what would we be, stripped under to our bare selves, deprived of every we have learned, even language? "The animals have no need of speech, why talk once you are a word?"