“I planned my death carefully, unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.”
Our narrator, Joan Foster, states this early in the novel, and spends the rest of the novel explaining what she means. She did not plan to commit suicide; rather, she faked her own death. She then fled to Italy, where she reminisces about her childhood, her relationships (and ultimately her marriage), and her career (both as a world-renowned poet and a secret writer of bodice rippers).
Like most Atwood novels, nothing really happens in Lady Oracle. But that’s not really ever the point. Atwood writes about women: what happens to us, what makes us tick, how man both help and harm us. I particularly enjoy (and by that, I mean: try not to cry while reading) the parts that discuss relationships young girls have with each other. Like the main character in Cat’s Eye, Joan is tormented by not the class bully, but by other girls who she felt were her friends. Again, I found myself wishing I’d read this book when I was younger — maybe it could have saved me some similar heartbreak.
Lady Oracle alternates between gravity and levity. Joan comes off as very witty, very funny. I wanted to spend more time with her, as her life meandered about. She says at one point: “My life had a tendency to spread, get flabby, to scroll and festoon like the frame of a baroque mirror, which came from following the line of least resistance.” This is the journey Atwood takes us on, and it’s absolutely worth it.