By Simon Cocking, review of Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, available from Bloomsbury here.
Margaret Atwood’s classic novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is about the future. Now, in Oryx and Crake, the future has changed. It’s much worse and bleaker. And we’re well on the road to it now.
The narrator is Snowman (a man once known as Jimmy), self-named though not self-created. As the story begins, he’s sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. Earlier, Snowman’s life was one of comparative privilege.
Crake and Jimmy live with all the other smart, rich people in the Compounds – gated company towns owned by biotech corporations. (Ordinary folks are kept outside the gates in the chaotic ‘pleeblands’.) Meanwhile, beautiful Oryx, raised as a child prostitute in Southeast Asia, finds her way to the West and meets Crake and Jimmy, setting up an inevitable love triangle.
With breathtaking command of her shocking material and with her customary sharp wit and dark humour, Atwood projects us into a less-than-brave new world, an outlandish yet wholly believable space populated by a cast of characters who will continue to inhabit your dreams long after the last chapter.
Oryx and Crake, By Margaret Atwood, reviewed
First published in 2003, you might wonder why read it and review it now. Except of course this is a book that covers genetic splicing, cross breed creations, wolvogs, rakunks, pigoons, and snats anyone? And yes they have all gone wild, gone feral and are using their genetically enhanced intelligence to track, hunt and, as often as possible, eat tasty human flesh. Then you have the manipulation of the masses by multinational global corporations. Often both curing and yet also killing the global masses / markets / plebs they aim to extract revenue from.
To top it all there is, of course, a global plague, aka pandemic, which is taking out most to all of humanity. You might not say we are exactly in a parallel situation here in 2020, but you can see why this book might be a topical and appropriate book to be reading. Allied with her Handmaid’s Tale outings, this first part of the Maddaddam trilogy is a bold, enjoyable and prescient step into what our future may hold for us if we are not extremely careful. In this context it is all the more impressive that it was conceived, written, and published almost two decades ago now.
If you have not read anything by Margaret Atwood, then it might be a smart time to do so. Oryx and Crake could be a good entry point if you feel you are not quite ready for the darkness of the Handmaid books, (though you do need to read them very soon, before fact overtakes reality). There is a lightness and slight absurdity to it all, because, as we all know, if something is unrelentingly dark it can be hard to take. Either way it is a topical book to be reading.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) May 16, 2020
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