Monday, May 26, 2014

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake   I am not sure how to describe Oryx and Crake.  It is definitely not a love story as is claimed in the blurb on the back cover.  (Seriously did the person who wrote the blurb even read the book?  Oryx and Crake don’t even appear in the same time and space until the last quarter of the book.)  It is a utopia (if such a thing even exists) or dystopia, depending on one’s point of view.  Chickens are bred to produce multiple breasts, wings, and other parts people like to eat.  There is a cure for nearly every disease so to keep making money pharmaceutical companies create new diseases to cure.  Genetic experimentation has been taken to the extremes with varying degrees of success.  In addition to the chickens there are pigoons, ranks, wolves.  The amazing thing about this story is that it all seems kind of possible.  The world Atwood describes is not so farfetched that I couldn’t imagine it happening in some form or another in the not too distant future.

Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy) tells the story in a non-linear format.  Stories of his childhood, his best (and only) friend Crake, and his life in a bubble (or compound) are intermixed with his life as Snowman among the Children of Crake after much of the world’s population has been decimated by a man made plague.  Snowman/Jimmy is sort of an everyman trying to survive after a disaster.  He has no special skills other than an ability to write snappy advertising slogans.  Yet somehow he has become the defacto leader of the Children of Crake, a sort of re-engineered species of humans.

For the first two-thirds of the book I had a hard time figuring out what this book was about.  I read and reread the blurb on the back cover to remind myself. That turned out to be little help because as noted earlier, this is not really a love story.   The story was interesting enough to keep me reading but there were chunks where I couldn’t help but wonder what the end goal was.  I mean in a mystery the goal is to figure out who did it.  In a romance the goal is for the two people to finally realize they are meant for one another.  In a fantasy novel there is usually some sort of quest.  Even in an ordinary non-genre fiction story there’s a “I was going about my day as normal and then this extraordinary thing happened and here’s how it changed me” storyline.  Here there wasn’t any of that, not exactly.  Even though a catastrophe has occurred Snowman is not trying to do anything in particular except get through the day and night.  It does come together in the end, but not until the last hundred pages or so.  Maybe I am too goal oriented but if someone asked me what this was about I am not sure I could answer in a coherent way.

This isn’t to say I didn’t like Oryx and Crake.  I did but it was also really easy to put down and walk away, at least until the end where the story starts to come together.  Thinking about it some more, I might describe it as a thought experiment or long form hypothetical posed in novel format.  It definitely makes one think.

This is the first in a trilogy.  The next two books are The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam.  Even though I'm still not quite sure what the story is about I am looking forward to seeing what happens next. 

The Year of the Flood   MaddAddam

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