Humans strive for perfection and optimisation. Better skin, better bodies. More efficient cars, more efficient farming. But how far is too far… When dangerous crossbreeds escape labs? When chicken meat is grown without chickens? This is just the tip of the iceberg when Atwood explores these uncomfortable questions in Oryx & Crake .
Oryx & Crake is the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy. Humans push the boundaries of genetic modification in this grim fictional account of the future as told by the cynical Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy. Snowman is the last human alive after a catastrophe hit humanity. In an unbearably hot and seemingly disintegrating world Snowman finds himself alone and struggling for survival with only his memories and the Crakers for company. The Crakers are near-enough perfect designer-humans engineered to be a beautiful, self-sufficient species resilient to illness. Snowman watches over the Crakers in his god-like capacity, keeping them safe from the hazardous remains of human civilization and shaping the myths and legends of this new race. But Snowman and the Crakers are not alone. Snowman must navigate various dangers and avoid nasty experiments in this dystopian world as he struggles with guilt and ghosts from his past…
Atwood’s dark story takes you places you don’t really want to go. Captivated by her vivid storytelling, I was wide-eyed and horrified, but unable to look away. I admire the boldness of Atwood’s writing, her confidence that’s never arrogance. Snowman’s narrative voice is written with skill and empathy, without shying away from complexities, and comments on the many topics explored in the novel: perfection, god-complexes, the human-nature relationship, and the exploitation of the vulnerable, among others. I must admit I’m turning into an Atwood fangirl. Her storytelling is just so good. I was hooked from the start and the story swept me along its murky currents. Atwood is masterful in her sensitivity to individual psychology which mirrors the universal without becoming impersonal.
‘After everything that’s happened, how can the world still be so beautiful? Because it is.’– Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake
This book recommendation contains no spoilers, but if you want a more in-depth review and analysis, I can highly recommend ‘Bioperversity’ by Lorrie Moore for The New Yorker. Here are some snippets from her article:
‘Tonally, “Oryx and Crake” is a roller-coaster ride. The book proceeds from terrifying grimness, through lonely mournfulness, until, midway, a morbid silliness begins sporadically to assert itself, like someone, exhausted by bad news, hysterically succumbing to giggles at a funeral. Atwood begins to smirk and deadpan: “There was a lot of dismay out there, and not nearly enough ambulances.” ‘
‘But a dystopian novel is not intended as a literal forecast, or even necessarily as a logical extension of our current world. It is simply, and not so simply, a bad dream of our present time, an exquisitely designed horror show in which things are changed from what we do know to a dream version of what we don’t. ‘