Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

Review of Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

It's difficult to judge this book in simple terms. On balance, it's very good, but it only really shines towards the end. Connie (Consuelo) is a woman with a history of mental illness (and what does that mean?) who finds herself in communication with a utopian future whilst at the same time being incarcerated in a mental institution. The book is a chiaroscuro of present and future. Connie's life is incredibly depressing and her glimpses of the 22nd century reveal a world that is almost sickeningly idyllic and overly hippyish. The picture Piercy paints of ther utopia is too full and, ultimately, a little boring. The detail of life in a mental hospital is much more interesting. The subtle ways in which patients are stripped of their dignity and individuality engender a sense of disbelief – a real illness can go ignored by the staff because they interpret patients' complaints as symptoms of mental problems. In the nearly three decades since Woman was written one hopes conditions are much improved but this dehumanisation likely survives in places.

The novel gains momentum in the latter half as Connie's circumstances straiten and the climax implies both desperate success and failure – after all, how reliable is the viewpoint character? The text shows a poet's eye and ear for description and the changes in time are handled deftly. Throughout, the story is piquant with bitter irony. A brief passage shows Connie's childhood as a Mexican in an Anglo world: ' "Say sit down." "Seet down." "Sit down. Now say it properly, Consoola." ' Woman on the Edge of Time is a fascinating and moving read spoiled somewhat by the turgidity of the first half and the tweeness of its fantasy future.

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