“I…dipped my finger into the saucer and wrote my initials in sugar-water on the windowsill. I waited to see my name spelled out for me in ants: a living legend.”
Lady Oracle opens with the narrator Joan in Italy, after faking her own death back in Canada. The story then flashes back to the events leading up to this, including a difficult relationship with her mother, and relationships with three influential men: Paul, Arthur, and the self-fashioned Royal Porcupine. Joan has been writing historical romance novels under a pseudonym for years, but she draws more attention to herself after writing a surprise best hit Lady Oracle.
Above all, I adore Margaret Atwood’s prose and insightful, often humorous, writing style (there was recently a story about Atwood writing for a time capsule library that won’t be available for 100 years and I am a little devastated). If she wrote the phone book, I would probably read it. Her characterization of Joan is phenomenal, especially as Joan describes her childhood. She has a very honest but also funny approach to talking about the small cruelties of childhood, like being made into a mothball for her ballet show (while the other girls got to be butterflies) or like being bullied on the way to Brownies. I thought the best part of the book was easily the relationship between Joan and her demanding mother and Joan’s frank discussions about being fat growing up.
I was less fond of the story once men started entering Joan’s life. All of them were annoyingly pretentious and unaware of Joan as a person, including possessive Paul, Arthur, and the over-the-top Royal Porcupine (real name: Chuck). I’m sure if I were reading this in a literature course, this would be Very Important in terms of the book’s overall themes, but frankly I was more interested in Joan when she was telling her own story and not wrapped up in someone else’s.
All in all, though, Joan comes off as incredibly real and by the end, I wanted a whole other part of the book to see the rest of her life.