Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This book did not disappoint, and actually got me out of a post-Christmas reading slump. The actual action happening in real time is minimal but I couldn’t get through these 400-odd pages fast enough. Snowman wakes up near a beach and talks to some strangely innocent beings known as Crakers. These Crakers don’t seem to understand much about human nature or technology; Snowman has the difficult task of trying to explain what a computer mouse is used for. Snowman seems to think of himself as the last of a species, the last of the humans, and that he has to take care of these strange creatures. He sees no reason for writing down his thoughts as he believes that there is nobody left to read them. What happened to humanity? Who are these Crakers? And why does Snowman think that he is the only one who has survived?

The answers are found in Snowman’s flashbacks. Atwood does a terrific character study here. The reader sees the environment in which Snowman, real name Jimmy, grows up in. It is a future that feels, in many ways, close to our present; this is a future without too many drastic ‘what if?s’. Animals are spliced together to make new and better ones (raknunks are part-racoons, part-skunks with their smelly and antisocial parts discarded. One makes a nice pet for young Jimmy). Jimmy and his friend Crake’s casual exposure to the websites teenage boys visit is wonderfully written, highlighting the ways in which easily accessible sex and violence can affect young minds. The proliferation of multi-vitamins (and their potential uses in a hyper-capitalist society) seem very relevant and Atwood takes them to their logical conclusion: if people become very healthy, how will manufacturers make money? Atwood gives the reader a lot to think about in our own societies but doesn’t moralise. The onus of the novel is on Snowman’s life.

Snowman’s life is, in my view, a very sad one. He is a complicated character, a man I rooted for even when he does some dodgy things. Murky characters are the characters I like best because they seem the most real, the most human. When teenage Snowman and his friend Crake are watching their various internet videos they spy an eight-year-old Oryx, who was sold by her poor family in a country she remains either intentionally or actually vague about, after filming videos she would rather forget about. Jimmy remembers seeing Oryx in his adult life and, evidently, so does Crake, who employs her at the facility where he develops his Crakers. These Crakers are humans with the humanity removed: the curiosity, the anger, the lust, the everything! Crake wants to make a better world and the only way that seems possible to him is to remove the chaos of humanity. People are forever wanting to better themselves and Atwood takes this to its logical end.

I loved this book and I don’t normally care for dystopia. Atwood’s imagination is wonderful. This is an intelligent, literary book that also contains a story. I’d like to read more of these, please.

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