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?
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So here's my Atwood history (since you obvs want to hear it): I read The Blind Assassin when i was like 17 because I liked the cover. I was not crazy about it, and have retained nothing of the plot. Just a vague feeling I wasn't into it.ReplyDelete
Then I saw The Penelopiad was coming out, and I got REALLY excited because I love Odysseus and Penelope. So I read that when I was 20. And was disappointed, because it was pretty much just a Feminist Revision. Boo.
SO. While I hold back some judgment because I read both of these when I was younger (esp for Blind Assassin), I feel like I'm not crazy about Atwood's writing style at the least. But I WILL read Handmaid's Tale, because it seems to be one of those cultural things you need to read. This one I would only read because, like you said, eveeeerybody's reading it.
As for the points this one apparently makes...hm. I don't do well with books that have an overall bleak attitude. But what we're doing with genetic splicing should probably be addressed SOMEWHERE in fiction, so this might be good? Yeah, sure. That.
I welcome your Atwood history. Sincerely, I do!Delete
I wrote this review the other day, as in before your 'aren't people now better than they used to be?' thing of yesterday, so now I am feeling a bit like, well, people are like non-insane and probably wouldn't let this kind of crap happen. BUT I should add that all the technology and stuff isn't necessarily the problem, but it was all available to one crazy guy and well, he ruined everything all by himself which could happen... This has almost nothing to do with your comment, but is a thing I've been thinking about so congrats for getting it out of me!
The Handmaid's Tale is bloody amazing though. And I would say that I read like 3 pages of The Blind Assassin and wasn't that into it, so maybe it's just not as good as everyone says it is! But The Handmaid's Tale is the shiz.
I am at once interested and disgusted by the whole gene-splicing, plant-chicken hybrid things. (Sort of like my interest in Hoarders, to tie this to your post yesterday.) Of course now I can't decide if I should read this one or not. I have read Handmaid but I want more Atwood and I'm not sure where else to go.ReplyDelete
Dude, the chicken plants literally made me feel sick. And then I was like 'but I don't eat meat anymore! But then... is that a plant or an animal?! SO CONFUSING AND GROSS!'Delete
I absolutely didn't have a clue where to go after The Handmaid's Tale either, hence why I read this like 18 months (probably more, actually) after that. This is pretty good though, and since everyone is reading it, maybe you can just ride the peer pressure wave out and be cool like everyone else. Or be a loser and read like Alias Grace or something (I have no idea if Alias Grace is an uncool Atwood or not. Just, you know, fyi)
I don't think Atwood is anti-science at all though. I think she just wanted to push it to extremes and in Crake's twisted logic, he used science to do something good. My book group discussed this last month and there were lots of different opinions. Some even liked the ending but I felt a bit cheated, I have been told that Year of the Flood runs parallel and may answer some questions.ReplyDelete
I kind of think that all sort of sci-fi-ish dystopias are critical of science to some extent, and I think that, while that's basically necessary in like these fictional worlds (because, come on, pigoons? Totally creepy and kind of wrong) but I just think that it's not always helpful in real life. This is basically just because there was this one girl in this English seminar I was in once, who was like 'oh, my boyfriend's nan is really old and can't look after herself, and because she's been kept alive by science, science has GONE TOO FAR.' And I was like 'no, fuck you, because my dad got cancer when he was like 40 something, and science saved his life, so it's the most amazing thing ever.' Clearly I've projected that onto this and all dystopias lol.Delete
I did feel kind of cheated by the ending, I've got to admit. Just because... it didn't really seem like a good enough reason for wiping out all people, you know? I'm very very intrigued that The Year of the Flood is related to it though, because I have that, and now I want to read it right away!
I actually remember preferring The Year of the Flood to Oryx and Crake so if you have that one, you should read it too. It's got a more substantial plot and things start to come together more than they did in the first novel. I wonder when the third will be out...ReplyDelete
I'm waaaay ahead of you, have already started it (I'm like 20 pages in or something, but still, I've started it! Hehe). And also, there's a third one? I'm very glad about this, because now I can see Oryx and Crake as a kind of origin tale which makes me like it more kind of...Delete
I really liked Oryx and Crake when I read it last year, but it definitely had a high level of weirdness. The plant-chickens were so disturbing! And the pigoons... Blech.ReplyDelete
I should really re-read The Handmaid's Tale, since I always say it's one of my favorite books but I read it in high school and have lost some of the details. I'm thinking about reading Year of the Flood eventually, to round out my Atwood Dystopia knowledge.
I am seriously so freaked out by the plant chickens! Just... what IS that?!Delete
Also, dooo read The Year of the Flood! I'm reading it at the moment (well, not right this moment...) so we can discuss it and be all smart! Kinda... And a re-read of The Handmaid's Tale is always a good idea. Not that I've done it yet, but still.
I remember loving Oryx and Crake but being so disturbed by it at the same time. It was the first dystopian novel I ever read.ReplyDelete