At long last, Gentle Readers, here is the second of three promised book reviews. Next I chose to read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I did this with some trepidation because I’ve been out of the serious literature game for a while now, and her books tend to be heavy.
And heavy it was, in the best possible sense. Oryx and Crake is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which most of humanity has been wiped out by disease and environmental destruction. (And thankfully they have not come back as zombies.) In fact, Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy) might be the last human alive.
If that doesn’t sound appealing, stay with me! Due to his friendship with the brilliant scientist Crake, Snowman had a front row seat to the events leading up to humanity’s downfall. Add in an enigmatic woman named Oryx, and you’ve got an engrossing read.
Margaret Atwood’s novels are always slow starters, and it took me a hundred pages or so to really get into it. Some people might consider that a serious downside, but I believe it’s a necessary part of her writing. Atwood creates complex fictional worlds that cannot be fully explained in a few introductory chapters. Since this book has a strong science fiction component, the external world is just as complex as the internal lives of the characters. I lazed my way through the first few sections, but by the end I couldn’t put it down.
When I thought about it afterward, I realized that the text was designed to build momentum. At first the focus is on Snowman’s present, and flashbacks come as ambiguous snippets of memory. Then somewhere in the middle third of the novel, the narrative focus shifts to the past. It takes on the feel of a science fiction mystery, with the reader dying to know the events of Jimmy’s past that led to his bleak present. The answer is well worth the time it takes getting there.
Is Oryx and Crake heavy? Absolutely. Atwood is an intense author dealing with dark themes. Is there Biblical imagery up the wazoo? You bet your English degree there is. Whatever literary tropes she uses, Atwood constantly amazes me with the depth of her imagination. I couldn’t read her books all the time, but I always enjoy them when I do. Her vision of the future is a perfect mix of the uncomfortably familiar and the uncomfortably strange. And most importantly, the small human dramas never take a backseat to the big science-fiction-y picture.
Oryx and Crake is the first book of the MaddAddam Trilogy. I mean, if I created this fictional universe, I would want to keep writing about it too. The second book, titled The Year of the Flood, is already out in paperback. I think an addition to my Christmas list is in order.