This was a bit of leap into the dark for me, as it’s not usual for me to read much speculative or dystopian fiction. It’s not that I don’t like it, but more that I am usually falling down some other subject rabbit hole. (I’m not sure that I’ve read much spec fic since McCarthy’s The Road – hard read. Perhaps Hunger Games would count?)
This was a fantastic read – one of the best, I expect, for this year – and Atwood has created a multi-level world which covers every detail and perspective to make it real for the reader. It was incredible – every question I had asked in my head was answered with regard to plot lines and action details. One of the reviewers from the UK’s Daily Telegraph calls Atwood a “linguistic engineer” which is a perfect description, I think. (Another reviewer describes the book thus: “A delightful amalgam for the sophisticated reader” (Ms magazine.) So I’m a “sophisticated reader”! Ha.)
It’s from the omniscient perspective of Snowman, one of the few human survivors left after a multi-wave disease pandemic has hit the world. Nature is taking over the infrastructure and the buildings that remain (although not maintained), but there are few people left (if any) apart from a small group called the Crakers. As the book progresses, you learn about the Crakers’ history and how the world got to be in this state.
The perspective shifts in time from the present to the past, to Snowman’s childhood and young adulthood, and in doing so, you are introduced to the characters in the title, Oryx and Crake. Snowman was not his original name – the new world necessitated a new name. Perhaps the man’s choice of “Snowman” for his moniker reflects his view of his life being temporary in nature/ of hanging by a thread?…
It’s not a story that you can daydream your way through, as you do need to concentrate to keep things straight, but it’s one of the more rewarding reads out there. I think it’s best to read this in big chunks so that you can get sucked into this alternate world – it’s just as bleak (ethically and morally) as The Handmaid’s Tale, but different. In this book, life is evolving post-pandemic and the earth is changing. Perhaps there is an element of hope more than Offred had? It somehow seems to be a more bearable world than that. (Interestingly, Texas is mentioned during the narrative as a place that has dried up and blown away a few years ago…)
Puzzlingly, there is a very subtle theme of toast throughout the story – why is that? Is it a reflection of society as it was then – a natural product that has been charred by society into something else? (Don’t know. Making that bit up – technique courtesy of long-ago grad school.)
“Had he been a lunatic or an intellectually honourable man who’d thought things through to their logical conclusion? And was there any difference?”
(With ref to Crake, one of the lead characters.)
This was a brilliantly told story with magically unpredictable twists and turns as the story progresses. (I love it when the plot is not obvious.) It was an excellent read.
As an aside: In the Acknowledgements page, Atwood mentions that one of the characters (called Amanda Payne) was named after a real-life person in England who had won an auction to get this privilege (of a character self-named in an Atwood book). (The money went to a non-profit called the Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture (UK).) Isn’t that a great way for a famous author to raise funds and awareness for a cause they believe in?