Somehow, and don’t ask me how, I had made it all the way to 2016 having only read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Then, struck by inspiration in Waterstones, I picked up a copy of Oryx and Crake and delved into an unrecognisable yet eerily familiar world. That is Atwood’s greatest strength in my opinion, her ability to tap into the niggling fears you have about society and explore them in painful detail. She pushes things, such as genetic modification, global warming and even segregation and gentrification, to their logical extremes. Oryx and Crake is a horrifying glimpse into the future, whilst simultaneously holding a mirror up to the past.
Atwood’s style of writing is full of complex ideas and turns of phrase, often causing me to re-read a sentence or two. Sometimes out of confusion but more often than not out of awe. I’ve not noted down or taken photos of sentences I enjoy this much since I was forced to for school and university! Margaret Atwood describes things, thoughts and feelings that I otherwise might not have thought possible to put into words.
“When any civilization is dust and ashes,” he said, “art is all that’s left over. Images, words, music. Imaginative structures. Meaning—human meaning, that is—is defined by them. You have to admit that.”
We follow Jimmy, or as he is now known, Snowman, and his determination to survive in the harshest of environments. We learn about the state of the world, in what Atwood describes as ‘speculative fiction’, whilst also hearing of the heartbreaking love story of Jimmy. As he struggles to exist in a world where he believes he is the only survivor of a plague, he begins to break down reality and what it really means to be human. Jimmy is flawed to the core and yet his sentiments are those shared by universally at one stage or another, and that is where I became completely obsessed with Atwood’s writing.
“It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him, the flaws in the design: the lopsided smile, the wart next to the navel, the mole, the bruise. Was it consolation he’d had in mind, kissing the wound to make it better?”
Jimmy’s perception of the world, both before and after, is infectious. He remains terminally infatuated with the slight and childlike Oryx, whilst under the spell of his childhood friend Crake. You find yourself wanting to slap Jimmy in the face, bring him to his senses, but also enjoying dwelling in his flaws, his imagination and delusions.
The prose is easy to read and I ploughed through the book during train journeys and evenings. When I read the final sentence, I audibly gasped and immediately texted a friend who recommended the book to me. The next evening I purchased the following book in the trilogy, The Year of the Flood and
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