This is my first blog post in over a year, so please bear with me if it’s a little substandard! I won’t bore you with the reasons I haven’t written, but essentially university and travelling mean that I haven’t had a lot of time to write, or to many books to blog about (unless you’d all enjoy a review of ‘Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Speaking People’?). However, I have read some books along the way that are most definitely worthy of a mention, and none so more than Margaret Atwood’s ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy and so I’m going to write a review of each book over the next three days.
Right, that’s enough pre-amble; on with the review…
I received Oryx and Crake and its sequel, The Year of the Flood, as Christmas presents from my sister. I knew Margaret Atwood was a critically acclaimed and prolific writer, but I wasn’t sure that the novels were going to be my cup of tea. I’ve dipped my digits in the dystopian before (The Hunger Games, 1984) but it’s not a genre I frequent, and I’ll admit that at first terms such as ‘pigeons’ and ‘Crakers’ did baffle me a bit. This wasn’t an issue for long, however, as Atwood has such a clear way of explaining her outrageous creations, although perhaps that’s because the world she describes is frighteningly possible. A few chapters in and I was hooked.
Oryx and Crake tells the story of Jimmy (a.k.a. Snowman), the last surviving human who has been entrusted with the care of the Crakers. The human race has been all but wiped out and the Crakers are sort of like Humanity 2.0- they’re humans with all of the flaws removed. As Jimmy remembers his life, his friendship with Crake (the creator of the Crakers) and their relationship with the beautiful and enigmatic Oryx, we learn about the dystopian world which existed before humanity was culled, and how the cull was brought about. It’s a fascinating portrayal of a terribly corrupted world, as well as one of love, loneliness, nostalgia, bitterness and jealousy.
Atwood has denied that her novel is science fiction and has instead called it ‘speculative fiction’, which I agree is a much more fitting term. Yes, the world of Oryx and Crake is saturated with corruption and dishonesty, but it isn’t that dissimilar to our own. Yes, Jimmy is in a unique and rather improbable situation (or so we’d like to think), but he’s something of an everyman. He isn’t a particularly good character, nor is he particularly bad. Throughout the novel attention is frequently drawn to his averageness, especially in comparison with brilliant Crake, and this averageness allows- perhaps even forces- the reader to relate to Jimmy, to put his or herself in his situation. You come to the realisation that you are Jimmy, that he does what you would do, that he feels as you would feel. You can no longer palm off the story as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impossible’; you are drawn into it and forced to confront it. By giving Oryx and Crake an unremarkable protagonist, Atwood renders it a remarkable novel.
But the novel’s merits don’t end there. Atwood’s writing style is incredibly easy to read without ever feeling simplistic, and full of shrewd observations about human nature. She’s often very funny too, particularly in the scenes with the naive Crakers, who know nothing about the world before. One such incidence is when Snowman, irritated by their incessant questioning, tells them to “Piss off” and they endearingly respond “What is ‘piss off’?”. The mixture of past and present Atwood uses is also compelling; we delve into Jimmy’s past but are never allowed to forget his present and we discover enough at a time to interest us, yet leave us wanting more.
Oryx and Crake is a novel that’s hard to sum up. It’s beautiful, brutal, funny and painful. At first it seems far-fetched, then it becomes a little too close for comfort. It’s romantic but realistic. It deals with universal human emotions, yet it’s not an overly sentimental novel- some critics have gone as far to say that Atwood’s writing is unemotional, but I disagree with that entirely. In short, it’s a work of genius and I’d recommend it to everyone. You don’t have to be a sci-fi lover (I’m certainly not) or a serious bookworm to enjoy them; I’d say they have a pretty universal appeal as there are so many different elements to the story- you’re bound to find something you like in there!
(I was going to include a discussion on an event near the end of the novel in this post but decided better of it due to spoilers. The post will follow shortly!)
Have YOU read Oryx and Crake? What did you think? Please leave me your comments here!