Book review: Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is one of those novels that make you fear for the future. Take, for example, this quote from the eponymous Crake:

"All it takes," said Crake, "is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it's game over forever." 

Atwood has said in multiple interviews about Oryx and Crake that she considers the novel speculative fiction because it doesn't deal with any technology that has not already been invented. In other words, she thinks that the seeds for the potential destruction of mankind have already been sown.

All it takes, as we can see unfold in the novel, is for the right kind of mad genius (Crake), to take over the reins. It is interesting that in the first of this environmental trilogy, the women are only seen through the eyes of the men.

The main narrator is Snowman, who once upon a time was known as Jimmy. Everyone is seen through protagonist Jimmy's lens - but most especially Oryx, with whom he falls madly and hopelessly in love. Hopeless, because she is actually in a relationship with Crake, the man who is supposedly Jimmy's best friend. Whether or not his feelings are reciprocated to the same extent by Oryx remains open to interpretation.

There are threads of Atwood's typical dark humour laced through the narrative. One of my favourite quotes is by Oryx, when trying to explain to Jim her life story (it was implied that she was the victim of an Asian paedophile ring):

"Of course (said Oryx), having a money value was no substitute for love. Every child should have love, every person should have it...but love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value, because then at least those who wanted to make a profit from you would make sure you were fed and not damaged too much. Also there were many people who had neither love nor a money value, and having one of these things was better than having nothing."

Or this, said by Jimmy's mother: "Your friend is intellectually honourable. He doesn't lie to himself."

Oryx and Crake is a dark novel - which, of course, it can't help being - as it's set in the post-apocalyptic genre. It's the first of what has been dubbed the Maddaddam trilogy, the second part of which, The Year of the Flood, has also been released. The final part of the trilogy will come out this year.

Jimmy adopts the moniker Snowman after the apocalypse, after The Abominable Snowman, another name for the yeti. His adopted name is a cry of longing for the vanished world, similar to ours in many ways, and set in a future that any reader of sense will see that we are inexorably heading toward.

Have you read Oryx and Crake?

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