Living Over the Abyss: Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man


99 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-125-6
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Beverly Rasporich

Beverly Rasporich is an associate professor at the University of Calgary
and the author of Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of
Alice Munro.


The bulk of this monograph is an adequate if workmanlike recounting of
the novel; Beran follows the novel’s structure in her own analysis,
offering, for the most part, sensible discussion throughout. However,
the introductory and concluding remarks, in which the author suggests
that Atwood subverts the conventions of comedy in Life Before Man (Frank
Davey has argued this for four of Atwood’s other novels) is weakly
presented, as are Beran’s final remarks about the novel’s ending.
While she points out in the section on critical reception that the
conclusion, like the structure, has been problematic for critics, she
can offer no insightful interpretation.

I found the section summarizing a variety of critics’ responses to
Atwood’s novel to be the most interesting and useful part of the book
as a quick, historical overview, although Frank Davey’s Margaret
Atwood: A Feminist Poetics offers a much more thorough and sophisticated
analysis of Atwood’s work. Also I am becoming increasingly piqued by
American literary critics who offer inane observations on the
relationship between Canadian literature and Canadian culture. The
following comment by Beran is just that: “As a Canadian novel, Life
Before Man is important because it extends the Canadian tradition of
using Canadian material.” Fancy that.

A useful monograph for undergraduates studying Life Before Man, Living
Over the Abyss can be bypassed by more knowledgable Atwood readers.


Beran, Carol., “Living Over the Abyss: Margaret Atwood's Life Before Man,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,