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Life Before Man explores the lives of three people imprisoned by walls of their own construction and in thrall to the tragicomedy we call love. Elizabeth, with her controlled sensuality and suppressed rage, has just lost her latest lover to suicide. Nate, her gentle, indecisive husband, is planning to leave her for Lesje, a perennial innocent who prefers dinosaurs to men. Hanging over them all is the ghost of Elizabeth's dead lover, and the dizzying threat of three lives careening inevitably towards the same climax.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099741015
ISBN-10: 0099741016
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 20mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Jan-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


US Kirkus Review » If there are such things as "poet's novels," Margaret Atwood writes them. Each of hers has a controlling, spooking metaphor; here the central idea is that today's men and women live in an era that is without the consolations of history, in which old forms are dying out, not to reappear. So it's no accident that the women here work with remnants of the past: Elizabeth Shoenhof, a director of a Toronto museum, is married to Nate, once a lawyer but now a maker of chic wooden toys. Both have had and will still have other lovers, but they're struggling to stay living in the same house for the sake of the children. Elizabeth's latest lover has just killed himself; Nate's most recent girlfriend has dumped him. And when Nate then goes toward museum paleontologist Lesje, Elizabeth retaliates with a calculated seduction of Lesje's live-in boyfriend. The actions are unsubtle and desperate, the air bleak, the light almost wholly interior. The pre-history of emotions and social codes here is entropic, using up and discarding modern feelings without ready alternatives: the only saving grace to Nate-and-Elizabeth's grotesque marriage is its eventual guaranteed extinction. To this end, Atwood leaves no self-doubt uncovered, and there are chapters - it's a book of chapters above all, some of them memorable - in which the characters numbly go through rituals (Elizabeth, for instance, visiting the planetarium, staring up at the faked stars) that are as spare and just as poems, veined with their own strange blood. Yet, for all the generosity, such unrelenting social and emotional chaos makes the book very confining: everyone's center is constantly being stirred, the struggles slow and nearly unbearable, until the entire novel comes to seem like one large tar pit. And though this is an effect Atwood no doubt wants, it's one that nevertheless makes for a gooey, close read. Monumentally depressing, thoroughly gifted work from a very special novelist. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is Canada's most eminent novelist, poet and critic. Her books include The Edible Woman, Surfacing, Lady Oracle, Life Before Man, Bodily Harm, The Handmaid's Tale (winner of both the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction and the Governor-General's Award, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made in a major film). Cat's Eye (also shortlisted for the Booker Prize) The Robber Bride and Alias Grace. Finally, The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize in 2000. She lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson and their daughter.

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