The prolific, The Handmaid’s Tale author, Margaret Atwood, wrote Bodily Harm in 1981. Although it is a decent piece of literature, it is often regarded as Atwood’s weakest work.

The Handmaid's Tale Author Margaret Atwood wrote Bodily Harm in 1981. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
The Handmaid’s Tale Author Margaret Atwood wrote Bodily Harm in 1981. Source: Commons.Wikimedia

The continuing success of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu has made us wonder. Has Margaret Atwood ever written a bad book? By now, we have all read The Handmaid’s Tale. We’ve also read The Testaments in honor of The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace was also a book we read out of love for Margaret Atwood. But as we turned the pages of the magnificent bestsellers, we realized that Atwood isn’t actually capable of bad writing.

In her lifetime, Margaret Atwood has authored several books of note. And all her books are worth exploring. In fact, some work is straight-up essential. But in a definitive ranking of Atwood’s work, we have to put something at the bottom.

Margaret Atwood wrote Bodily Harm in 1981. It is the weakest novel by The Handmaid’s Tale author. It is a great book. But, to comprehend why the book didn’t make it big like Atwood’s other work, we need to identify its problems. We need to realise how the Booker Prize winner resolved the issues of Bodily Harm in her later work.

Margaret Atwood wrote Bodily Harm in 1981, later in 1985 she wrote The Handmaid's Tale. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
Margaret Atwood wrote Bodily Harm in 1981, later in 1985 she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.
Photo from Commons.Wikimedia

What Is Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood About?

Atwood’s Bodily Harm follows journalist Rennie Wilford who voyages to a Caribbean island for an assignment. The island is on the brink of a revolution. And Wilford’s rules of survival do not apply to this new land. There is a lust for power, both sexual and political. The prose is elegant, relentless, and satiric. And Margaret Atwood also experiments with new tools, besides her signature style.

Bodily Harm Failed Because Of Its Lead

What did not work for Bodily Harm was its protagonist. Rennie Wilford runs into the worst possible situations. Her lack of agency in preventing peril is quite frustrating. In traditional Margaret Atwood novels like The Handmaid’s Tale, the protagonists face stress too. But, the novels aren’t static, because their heroines know the way out.

Rennie is different. She is naive; at times, she is even dumb. It even appears that some of the problems in her life are a deliberate consequence of her own impotence. One can not help but feel that Reenie is enduring most of the torture, because she wants to. In one scene, she accepts a parcel from an unknown person at her motel. Now, this is something one wouldn’t do even under normal circumstances. But, Reenie does so amid a coup.

How Margaret Atwood Resolved The Bodily Harm Critism In Her Subsequent Work?

Never again did Margaret Atwood design a lead this miserable. In Bodily Harm, Rennie chose troubles for herself- damsel in distress cliche. But, in Atwood’s later work, like The Handmaid’s Tale, troubles came because of misfortune. In Bodily Harm, Rennie was unable to drag herself out of the chaos. In fact, she frequently worsened the situation for herself. But in the later novels, Atwood made a case for women to fix their own problems.

Margaret Atwood fixed the problems of Bodily harm in her later work like The Handmaid's Tale. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
Margaret Atwood fixed the problems of Bodily harm in her later work like The Handmaid’s Tale.
Photo from Commons.Wikimedia

Perhaps Atwood too realized the weaknesses of Bodily Harm. Therefore, in her later ventures, she made her literary experiments more audacious. For example, in Alias Grace, Atwood curated an inconsequential story which allowed the reader to explore the plot with its own point of view. Similarly, in the Blind Assasin, Atwood projected a single issue from a revolving lens. That is to say, she wasn’t throwing away conflicts from the mill. Rather, she made the premise available for the reader to see with all sides of the spectrum.