Oryx and Crake (Review)

August 2, 2010

Book cover for "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood.Title: Oryx and Crake

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publication Year: 2003

Pages: 416

Genre: Fiction, Dystopia

Source: Purchased from Chapters.ca

From the cover:

The narrator of Atwood’s riveting novel calls himself Snowman. When the story opens, he is sleeping in a tree, wearing an old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. He searches for supplies in a wasteland where insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the pleeblands, where ordinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is he left with nothing but his haunting memories? Alone except for the green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster, he explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes – into his own past, and back to Crake’s high-tech bubble-dome, where the Paradice Project unfolded and the world came to grief.

With breathtaking command of her shocking material, and with her customary sharp wit and dark humour, Atwood projects us into an outlandish yet wholly believable realm populated by characters who will continue to inhabit our dreams long after the last chapter. This is Margaret Atwood at the absolute peak of her powers.

(This is the first book in the Oryx & Crake trilogy.)

I forgot how much I loved Atwood’s writing until I picked up this book.

Oryx and Crake is a cross between a post-apocalyptic novel of speculative fiction (Atwood reportedly doesn’t agree with it being labelled as “science fiction”) and dystopian fiction at its finest. It’s different from The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on a national theocracy, while Oryx and Crake is based more on the idea of scientific creations and discoveries that affect the future of humanity.

I love the way that this story is told. Everything is narrated from the point of view of Jimmy/Snowman, both the events happening “now” and flashbacks to what has occurred to bring them to this point. It takes a while for the reader to find out exactly what has happened to bring the Crakers and Snowman to this point – right from the beginning, it is apparently that something has happened to make humanity essentially extinct, but the reasons are explained in bits and pieces as Snowman remembers them. We find out exactly who Oryx and Crake are, and why it is that the “people” Snowman is watching over are called “Crakers” or “Children of Crake” – as well as why they and Snowman call all animals the “Children of Oryx”.

We also come to discover just how big a role science and bio-engineering have come to play in the extinction of humanity, something that is scary largely because of just how realistic Atwood’s story is. Just like the way that The Handmaid’s Tale is realistically possible given the impact of the Christian Right in the United States, Oryx and Crake is creepily possible because of the way that science and technology – as well as simply our impact on the environment and the world – are heading.

I read this book because The Year of the Flood is the selection for my book club this month, but I’m also trying to read more Atwood, since I’ve only gotten around to a couple specific works before this. Now that I’ve read it, though, I would definitely recommend Oryx and Crake to anyone who is interested in dystopian fiction, science fiction, or Canadian literature. This book is “very Atwood”, if you know what I mean – the writing style, the short chapters, and vague-ness that makes the reader figure some things out on their own.

Oryx and Crake is good: it really makes you think. And isn’t that really what literature should make us do?

Rating:

8 Comments

  • zibilee August 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I have had this book on my shelf for quite awhile now, and recently bought Year of the Flood as well. I am looking forward to reading them back to back and letting Atwood wow me. Great review! I am excited to start these!

    • Carina August 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      Indeed! I was told that I could read Year of the Flood without reading Oryx and Crake first, but why do that when I can read them both, like it’s intended? 😀

  • Amy August 3, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Sounds interesting! I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale my Atwood so really need to read more.

    • Carina August 8, 2010 at 12:20 am

      Yes, yes you should. It’s very cliche to say this – in terms of the body of Canadian literature – but her writing is fantastic!

  • erisian23 August 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    this has been on my self calling to me for a year now.
    it says “read me dang it. read me now!”
    but i do not like being told what to do, so i cheerfully ignore it and pretend that it has no power over me.

    to be honest, i have not read your review because of this.. i may just move it higher in the pile so that we can compare notes instead 🙂

    • Carina August 8, 2010 at 12:43 am

      Read it! Read it! We will definitely compare notes! (And read the companion novel, The Year of the Flood, too.)

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