Thursday 3 May 2012
Devouring Books: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Anyway! So, ignoring the entire first paragraph, Oryx and Crake! I decided to read this because you know when there seem to be times when everyone whose blogs you follow seems to be reading the same book at the same time, only without knowing about it? That's what Oryx and Crake was like for me. And since I owned a copy, and I needed to read another Atwood (because I just kept going 'oh, I LOVE Margaret Atwood!' and then thinking, but do I? Do I really? Because I've only read one of her books, HOW CAN I KNOW?!) I, you know, read it. Obviously. Which is why I'm going to start reviewing it, eventually.
SO. Dystopia, dystopia, everyone's vanity has got the better of them and all that's left are some really creepy fake humans that really freak out the only human character we have, Snowman, formerly Jimmy, and, well, they freak me out too. Oryx and Crake is basically the story of how things got to be the way they are, cutting between the past and the present at a whim to do so. And I have to say- in the beginning, this structure kind of pissed me off, because, well, I'm not very good with suspense, and I was all like 'but hoooow did this happen?' but, since that question was answered eventually, I came to appreciate the structure because it's kind of how Snowman experiences the world now- constantly looking back at a way of life that doesn't exist anymore, and then being brought sharply back into the present.
I should actually have said, Oryx and Crake isn't so much a dystopian novel, as a dystopian dystopian novel. Cause the world that doesn't exist anymore, Jimmy's world, was a nightmare of human obsession with beauty and perfection; and Snowman's world is one where basically all human achievement is gone, and everything's gone back to nature. Choose for yourself which one is worse, I know which I'm going with! I do slightly resent the original dystopia though- I really strongly dislike the kind of 'science has gone too far!!' argument, because, well, having family members with cancer that probably would have killed them not all that long ago, I kind of super appreciate science. Like, a lot. But, then again, putting human cerebral cortex into pigs (or pigoons, see the incredibly creepy one on the cover above!) and growing some weird hybrid plant-chicken? Maybe that kind of is science going too far. And also, ew.
And the thing is, that kind of world isn't really massively far away from our own. As you know, I've taken a mild interest in the way animals are raised for meat, and they really grow chickens to big sizes in almost no time and with very little food, so how long before they splice some genes together and make frankenstein chicken plants? And plastic surgery and fears of aging have become so endemic in our culture that people are willing to pay hundreds of pounds on face creams that promise to reduce lines and wrinkles. Wake up people! The lines and wrinkles won't disappear, and anyway, why would you want them to?!
Sorry. The modern world. Ugh.
Anyway. I did have a few problems with Oryx and Crake. First of all, Jimmy seems to constantly sentimentalise the past, which is fine and a natural reaction to have when you're the only actual human still in existence, but when he actually looks back at his old life, it was kind of crappy- bad parents, really only one friend, sex addiction... Not so hot. It's almost like I want him to either say, 'my past life was awesome, so this is intolerable', or 'well, the past was shit, so this isn't any worse, I guess.' But he is a product of crazy dystopia land, so I guess we can let him off? I also wasn't too keen on the ultimate conclusion, of how the dystopia became a future dystopia. OBViously I'm not going to tell you what happens there, because goodbye whole point of reading the book, but the whole thing felt a bit ridiculous, and not true to characters concerned. Like, really.
On the whole though, Oryx and Crake made me think a lot about modern ideals about our faces and the almost worship of the body over all other faculties; and that's never a bad thing. I think it does fall down somewhat in finding a convincing reason for the whole new world, but overall, I think it's worth a read. Thoughts?