Bodily Harm

Atwood, Margaret

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Nov-17-2003


Rennie is a freelance magazine writer. She writes mostly about fashion trends or travel and spends her free time with her controlling but sensual boyfriend, Jake. Her life changes dramatically when she finds out she has breast cancer, then has one breast removed. She feels as if she is about to die, as if worms are eating away at her insides.

Her boyfriend pretends to feel fine about it, but Rennie senses his disgust and their relationship ends. She realizes that she is in love with her surgeon. After all, he has seen a part of her that even she herself has never seen--her inside. The married surgeon is guilt-ridden and Rennie decides to go on vacation.

She ends up on a small island near Grenada. While she is there, a coup breaks out. Rennie becomes a hostage. Upon her release, she returns home. Now, however, she feels lucky to be alive and feels more alive than many around her.


The novel is a poignant description of one woman’s experience with breast cancer. The section on the tropical island has a dream-like quality to it. Indeed, it seems to be more of a metaphor than a realistic depiction. Rennie learns to believe in herself. She learns that with effort, she can still live a full life. She is not different than everyone else; everyone will die.

She is, in fact, lucky to have learned to pay attention to her life. Rennie’s change seems a bit contrived and easy. The book seems to argue that all a woman with breast cancer needs is a change in attitude rather than a clean environment or creative medical options. Nevertheless, attitude may change the way one experiences a situation for which one’s attitude is in no way responsible.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



Page Count