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Davey, Frank.

Vancouver, Talonbooks, c1984. 178pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-88922-217-7. (The New Canadian Criticism Series) CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Alan Thomas

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

There exists an undoubted need for one-volume, comprehensive, and cheap studies of contemporary Canadian writers. High school and university students can profit from sophisticated, up-to-date cirticism in an accessible form and the intent behind this new critical series of monographs can only be admired. If there is a general weakness in the three books just published in the New Canadian Criticism series, it lies in the eclecticism of approach, a reflection of the current instability in literary criticism. This means that students will see how particular approaches work but will receive little general encouragement and education in critical practice.

Frank Davey, editor of the series, applies a feminist analysis to the work of Margaret Atwood, the leading figure, one might say the heroine, of contemporary Canadian writing. Exploring her poetry, he finds its imagery and attitudes express two ways of apprehending the world: a "male" way, which fixes boundaries and defines by naming, and a "female" which accepts a less defined, broader space, and grows anonymously. The speaker of the poems is commonly "female" but when the voice seems "male" Davey postulates that Atwood uses "male" language in order to undermine it. Indeed, he goes further, and argues that language itself, in Atwood's view, is irredeemably "male"; the writer struggles, within language, to express the essentially wordless realm of female experience. This paradoxical conclusion is reached only in regard to poetry.

Atwood's fiction is examined by Davey in terms of narrative pattern. In one chapter, likely to prove useful to students, Davey demonstrates how remarkably comparable some of the novels are in their form and content; they show alienated female protagonists struggling against the "male" patterning of their lives. Davey, once again, carries the argument a little further, to suggest that Atwood pits her heroines in a metafictional struggle against the patterning of comic form itself; they struggle to break out into other narrative kinds (failing only in Lady Oracle (McClelland and Stewart, 1976)). Her Life Before Man,* however, shows "male" behaviour in a woman character, and "female" in a man; consequently, Davey judges Atwood's male-female dichotomies to be metaphorical and not "political."

Alan Thomas, Scarborough College, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont.

*Reviewed vo. VIII/3 1980 p. 144.

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