Originally published: 2003
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published by: Virago
Length: 448 pages
Reading dates: 20-24 April 2023
Having previously followed the Chichester Libraries Reading Challenge, this year the Shoreham by Sea book club is borrowing ideas from a few different challenges for our themes! For April the theme was “books set in the future”. We always make suggestions and then vote and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood was chosen. I’d actually already read this back in 2017 but couldn’t remember enough about it for a discussion so decided to read it again.
Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
Oryx and Crake is set towards the end of the 21st century in a time where resources are becoming scarce. In it we follow the story of Snowman who seems to be the last human alive after a devastating event. His only company are a group of genetically enhanced humans known as Crakers. and a selection of weird and wonderful genetically modified animals.
A lot of the narrative takes place in the past and looks at Jimmy who later becomes known to himself as Snowman and how he grew up in what was known as a compound – a gated community owned by the company his father worked for, taking part in genetic research. His mother is depressed and eventually leaves Jimmy and his father and ends up being on the run from the authorities. As a teenager, Jimmy meet Glenn (Crake) who is a genius and they enjoy watching child porn and playing online computer games together.
They go their separate ways to University, Glenn to a prestigious scientific research University while Jimmy goes to a more arts based University Eventually Glenn gets Jimmy a job at the company he works for and it is there he meets the Crakers for the first time, a group of genetically created humans, whose skin is sun proof and can survive on vegetation so they will never run out of food. Romantic love has been bred out of them and they mate every few years in order to reproduce only. A young woman known as Oryx is employed to teach the Crakes what they need to know and Jimmy recognises her as one of the children he used to watch on porn sites and they begin a relationship.
Did I enjoy this? I can’t say I really did but I did think it was a good book and Atwood is a wonderful writer. I really thought some of her insights were excellent considering it was written 20 years ago – she talks about genetically modified food and how much of the food they eat no longer contains real meat. But she did seem to think DVDs and CD ROMs would be around a lot longer than they were! I think I struggled a little as the characters are inherently unlikeable and as Jimmy is the only human left, it is hard to get attached to anyone.
It finished on a bit of a cliff-hanger but one that I can live with – I don’t mind unanswered questions sometimes, being happy to comes to my own conclusions about what happened. Oryx and Crake is the first book in a trilogy but I have no inclination to read The Year of the Flood or MaddAdam and time soon but perhaps one day!
The book group as a whole scored it relatively highly but I’m not sure any of us actually enjoyed it – it is certainly not a cheery read with words like bleak and disturbing being used in our descriptions! But we all agreed it was well written and remarkable in her insights into the future.
About the author:
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and the MaddAddam trilogy. Her 1985 classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump, when the Handmaids became a symbol of resistance against the disempowerment of women, and with the 2017 release of the award-winning Channel 4 TV series. ‘Her sequel, The Testaments, was published in 2019. It was an instant international bestseller and won the Booker Prize.’
Atwood has won numerous awards including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019 she was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour for services to literature. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
Reading it not once but twice! You did better than I did, I gave up as I just couldn’t get into it
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I think I deserve a medal!
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Great review lovely ! Atwood is hard to read! xx
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I’ve a few of hers on my TBR – hopefully I’ll find them better than this!