I’m ashamed to say my first exposure to the genius of Margaret Atwood was The Handmaid’s Tale series on TV… promptly followed by Alias Grace as soon as realised it was on Netflix. If I’d enjoyed watching them this much, I could only imagine how brilliant her books must be. Through complete chance a friend of mine gave me some kindle books (usually I’d choose a physical book over a digital one any day, but spending a year travelling I couldn’t just fill my bag with literature!) and one afternoon I delved into the archive and found none other than Margaret Atwood, lurking between Game of Thrones and The Fellowship of the Ring. I hadn’t heard of this particular title, but was more than eager to get started and see what I would find.
Oryx and Crake begins in a dystopian future with a mysterious character called ‘Snowman’, reminiscing about the past: his life; his parents; and yet more mysterious characters whose names we don’t yet understand, nor their place in this story… not yet anyway. Flitting between the past and a lonely and desolate present, Atwood slowly reveals the dealings that led to this moment in time, where we find Snowman, and his role in events as they unfurled.
He has to find more and better ways of occupying his time. His time, what a bankrupt idea, as if he’s been given a box of time belonging to him alone, stuffed to the brim with hours and minutes that he can spend like money. Trouble is, the box has holes in it and the time is running out, no matter what he does with it.
– Oryx and Crake
Atwood delves into one of the most controversial topics of the 21st century in this novel exploring the future of science, and where the road of genetic modification may take us. The human race has meddled and moulded DNA, creating all kinds of new wonders – or horrors, depending on your stance. From Chickienobs to advances in medicine so profound that all illness can be cured or prevented, the seemingly far-fetched creations of Atwood’s world show us a glimpse of what our future may hold, if we continue down this road one small step at a time.
Atwood’s characters in Oryx and Crake are not always loveable, sometimes acting in selfish or morally dubious ways. But it is for this reason that they’re human. It’s difficult to judge someone living in a world where circumstances are different to our own, and it’s Snowman’s flaws that make him so endearing. Whether the outlook of the novel is pessimistic, or just a blameless course of nature – our DNA – is for you to decide…
Anyway, maybe there weren’t any solutions. Human society, corpses and rubble. It never learned, it made the same cretinous mistakes over and over, trading short-term gain for long-term pain.
– Oryx and Crake
Definitely among the best books I’ve read recently, I would really recommend to anyone and everyone. It asks some fascinating questions that left me pondering over and over on an incredibly prevalent topic. A must read!