There were those who admired The Edible Woman, while Surfacing--post-discovery chic?--attracted still more attention. This is by far the most cheerful novel Margaret Atwood's written--picking up themes and traces of her former books while subduing the determined, symbolic Millettantism of her second one. Lady Oracle is entertainment de luxe (even a Redbook appearance)--she's Joan Foster, once the very unwanted, fat child of an awful mother who had wretched experiences with everyone except her loving Aunt Lou (e.g. the time her dancing teacher converted her from a butterfly into a mothball which was what she looked like in all that tulle). She reviews the almost "discarded misery" of her childhood and puberty in which she had to suppress sex--there was no role for her to play--until she dieted drastically and moved on to England, still the insecure romantic looking for happy endings. A Polish count who wrote girls' books under the name Mavis Quilp led her to write her own costume gothics. But earlier on (through Aunt Lou's spiritualist) she had been told she had the gift; it comes true when she begins the automatic writing which results in her great best seller, Lady Oracle, a "cross between Kahlil Gibran and Rod McKuen" and winner of cult catchwords like "chthonic." There is also her marriage to Arthur, a mournful, radical prig, which seems to take place "in a kind of spiritual train station," without many sensual highs. Finally Joan Foster decides to do away with all her secret selves and fantasy heroines by preparing her demise into another world and another life. Miss Atwood's eye for detail is as acute as ever; it's just that this book is a genuine mood-softener as well as raffishly funny. Lady Oracle's automatic reading--a charming certainty.