Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.
Oryx and Crake
Atwood, Margaret (2003). [Genre: Speculative]
Source: Own copy
I have always loved Margaret Atwood in the past, but The Blind Assassin is one of my least favourite books from this year, so I was a little apprehensive going into Oryx and Crake (despite it having been on my to-read pile since 2008!). Obviously though, The Blind Assassin was an aberration to my general love of Atwood.
Oryx and Crake is ‘speculative fiction’ – it takes where society is now to a logical extreme (not ‘the’ logical extreme, but certainly one of many possibilities as to where humanity could end up). Jimmy (AKA Snowman) has found himself as possibly the last homo sapien left and an unwilling caretaker of a newly adapted form of the human genus, known as ‘Crakers.’ Through flashbacks we follow Jimmy’s life thus far, which slowly reveals how he and humanity have ended up in the position that they have, and what it has to do with two important people in his life – Oryx and Crake.
As always, Atwood demonstrates her absolute mastery of the English language. I truly don’t think I can name another writer living today that writes in such a consistently beautiful and thought-provoking manner. Her use of imagery is carefully considered and she just has such a way with description and dialogue.
The story itself is both fascinating and horrifying. The chain of events that leads to a lonely Jimmy reflecting back on his life is one that is rooted in realism. Not only are the scientific advances portrayed easily extrapolated from where we are now, the portrayal of society and societal breakdown is eerily familiar to scenes that we see on the news today. Humanity could easily progress, and then break down, in exactly the way that Atwood hypothesises. That being said, I enjoyed some of the ins and outs of the story slightly less. Upon reflection, I felt like one of my major problems with The Blind Assassin is that it is often shocking seemingly for the sake of being shocking, rather than to prove any particular point. There were parts of Oryx and Crake where I found the same feeling creeping up on me, particularly when Atwood goes into the back story of the character Oryx. Fortunately this trope wasn’t as prevalent in Oryx and Crake as it was in The Blind Assassin, and it was generally made up for by the far more compelling story. Atwood has a true talent for taking a facet of today’s society and building it up into something that is scary because it is so recognisable, and it is this side of her writing that I love (another favourite example is The Handmaids Tale).
Oryx and Crake was originally written as a standalone and can easily be read as such. I’m looking forward to picking up the next two books in what has become a trilogy, but I think I will leave it sometime so I can let Oryx and Crake sink in a little more. It leaves many unanswered questions, but they are the type worth thinking about.
Oryx and Crake is the final book in my TBR Challenge this year! Yay!