Sep 7, 2009

Oryx and Crake

by Margaret Atwood

There is something about Margaret Atwood's books that both fascinates and repels me. I found The Handmaid's Tale to be chilling, in a remote way. Cat's Eye was terribly dismal and depressing to me. And Oryx and Crake gave me the creeps- but at the same time I simply could not put it down. It is a horrifying vision of the future- a future in which humankind has altered the face of the world beyond belief. The effects of global warming are only a sidenote here; popultation growth beyond control causing a huge rift between the wealthy and poor, spawning violence and crime alongside ruthless pursuit of scientific answers to all problems. Genetic engineering and other kinds of tinkering has created things like pigs that grow human organs, fake boulders that water your lawn, babies with chosen characteristics. And society's utter moral degredation. It all eventually falls into chaos, until a man who calls himself Snowman is the only real human being left, alongside a group of genetically altered people who are impervious to many ills- sunburn, disease, hunger (they eat grass). Jealousy, hate, love? humor? There's not a lot left to make them human, so many things in their brains have been rewired by the scientist Crake. Who was once Snowman's childhood friend.

The main character in this story is Snowman and his younger self, Jimmy. The plot follows him through his daily struggle to survive in the present altered and (to him) harsh new environment, full of dangerous wildlife and killing heat. He starts off on a journey back to the ruins of civilization for supplies, on the way reminiscing on his childhood and all the events that led up to the final disaster- how he watched the world change and the part he played in key events.

And now a word about what frustrated me; skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers. I found some things in this book really disturbing. Namely, the blatant s-x everywhere, and how the boys would watch violence (executions, suicides, killing of animals etc) for entertainment. I suppose this was to show how far society had gone, but it was pretty sickening. And I really didn't understand why Jimmy was so drawn to Oryx. For a character with such an important role, there wasn't much told about her, and she hardly felt real to me. Perhaps she was meant to remain a mystery. Then the ending of the book drove me crazy, because I got excited just as Snowman did, and hoped in those final pages to see a confrontation or discovery of some kind, and I got- nothing. For the first time I wanted to throw a book across the room! But then I found out that her upcoming book Year of The Flood, is a sequel to this one, so maybe my questions will be answered. I'm going to wait a while before I read it, though. I can't take this kind of heavy stuff one book after another.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 376 pages, 2003

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15 comments:

Melody said...

I've only read The Handmaid's Tale by her so far and I really enjoyed reading that book! I look forward to reading the rest of her books in the near future (I've this book in my pile!).

Nymeth said...

I know what you mean about her. She writes stuff that can be really uncomfortable and disturbing, but I just don't want to stop reading!

Bybee said...

It's kind of like her poems -- they draw you in, but they have a nasty little twist to them that I can't resist quoting to others.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have yet to read Atwood. I think I've been putting it off, as just about any review I see is a little daunting! I'll get there someday. Interesting how she appears to enjoy making her readers quirm!

bermudaonion said...

I have The Year of the Flood and my son informed that I need to read Oryx and Cake first. I'm glad to see it's good in spite of its faults.

Stefanie said...

It's a harsh book, isn't it? I don't think it is one of her best but I did like it. I like that she looks unflinchingly at the disturbing things and compels the reader to look too. It is unsettling to be sure and the intensity is sometimes exhausting, but she never fails to make me think and I like that.

Jenny said...

I think I'm going to put Cat's Eye aside for now, and I may not read this one for a while either. I have Alias Grace on my list for the RIP challenge - I am interested to read Atwood's other books, but I'm like you, I can only take so much unrelenting misery at a time. :P

Danielle said...

I went through a huge Margaret Atwood phase when I was younger reading and rereading books by her. I admire her so much, but I sort of trailed off about the time Oryx and Crake came out. I have it on my shelves, but couldn't seem to get excited about it. Now with her new book coming out I feel lik I need to read this one. It does sound like a depressing read, but it sounds bearable since it's such a page turner!

TheBlackSheep said...

That sounds really good, if horrifying. I've been wanting to read Atwood for ages, but haven't gotten around to getting any of her books. I wish they'd offer them on Audible, alas, they don't as of yet.

Thanks for the warning though. I'll know to have something cheery on hand when I finally get my hands on one of her works.

Jeane said...

Melody- This one sat on my pile for a long time before I picked it up. I'm glad I finally did, even if it was disturbing.

Nymeth- It takes a really good writer to compel me to finish a book that has me squrming the whole way!

Bybee- I've never read any of her poems. Share a choice few?

Sandy Nawrot- I felt intimidated by her too, at first. It took me forever to get up the guts to read The Handmaid's Tale. Every book of hers I've owned sits for a long time on my shelf, getting sidelong looks and passed up for more comfortable reads. It's worth the read in the end, though I have to be in the right mood for it.

Bermudaonion- Now I wish I had a copy of Year of the Flood, too! I wonder if it would read okay as a stand-alone. My library probably won't get it for a long time, and then there'll be a waiting list weeks long!

Stefanie- Harsh, intense, disturbing, unflinching, compelled- you've used all the perfect words to describe it! Definitely a thinker.

Jenny- I don't know if I could read her scarier-sounding books, about murders and stuff. I bet they're perfect for the RIP!

Danielle- If it hadn't been so fascinating, I honestly would have quit halfway through due to the depressing factors.

BlackSheep- A fair warning is nice to have when getting into one of her books! I really wasn't aware what was coming when I started it, but by the time I started to figure it out, I was too far into the book to put it down.

Hazra said...

I've had Handmaid's Tale in my pile for so long, but I've not got around to reading it. I should, though, I've heard so much about her.

carolsnotebook said...

I've enjoyed what I've read by Atwood so far. I do need to read this one soon, since I have The Year of the Flood on my shelf.

Trish said...

I have this one on the shelf but I'm very intimidated by it (I've read 4 Atwood books so far and am still slightly intimidated by her!). Your review doesn't really help that. :) I'm mostly concerned about how "sickening" you found the book as I fear that's what I'll think as well. Guess I'll let it sit just a little longer...

Jeane said...

Hazra- Handmaid's Tale was the first Atwood book I read. It has never really left me.

Carolsnotebook- I am not sure if Year of the Flood could be read as a stand-alone. I do know I'm anxious to get my hands on it now!

Trish- sorry if I've put you off this one! All the Atwood books I've read have made me uncomfortable in one way or another- maybe I'm just a bit more sensitive to those things- but at the same time they're so hard to put down. She's such a good storyteller; most writers would not have me coming back for more after making me flinch so!

Anna said...

Atwood's books certainly are unique. I've read a few of them, but nothing tops The Handmaid's Tale. I hope to read this one soon, as I've heard it's a probably a good thing to read it before reading The Year of the Flood. Thanks for the review.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric