Book Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
I have been obsessed lately with dystopian fiction as well as post-apocalyptic stories, because there is just something about them that draws me in. It was not until a few weeks ago that I discovered my absolute favourite novel in this genre: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I realise it was published in 2003, which gives me fourteen years in which I could have encountered it, and I honestly do not have an answer to why I only got my hands on the novel halfway through 2017. This is also why I want to introduce the novel to you now, fourteen years after its publication date: in the case you have not read it yet. And, even if you have already read it, maybe my praise will inspire you to read it again.
Margaret Atwood shows in her novels that she possesses so much knowledge on the human world, and this is part of the reason her Oryx and Crake pulls me in so much. The novel is set in an unspecified future, which could be closer than one would expect when hearing the word ‘post-apocalypse’, and takes place in a world that is real to our own. The world of Snowman, a wasteland, with no stable resources such as electricity or communicative systems is juxtaposed with the world of Jimmy, which mirrors the real world in its class division, human endeavors to improve natural occurrences and the vast spreading of porn and violence over the internet. Jimmy is sexist, passive and absolutely hateable, but of course this is also up to personal preference. Some people I talked to like Jimmy because ‘at least he is a good guy’. Debatable. But interestingly so. Crake, however, with his ambitious plans to improve the human race, intrigues page after page, right until the end, thanks to Atwood’s finely structured timeline where past and present run through each other and you are compelled to read the next chapters because you do not get concrete answers until the final chapter.
Oryx and Crake is dark. Not dark in the definition of horror, not dark in the definition of killer clowns and gore. It is dark in the way it reflects on humanity as the species that we are. Featuring human manipulation of very human elements, Atwood’s novel brings us a story that seems far away but in reality lies eerily close to humanity’s present reality. But Atwood describes all this darkness and eeriness in beautiful prose, which makes the hit on the head of humanity a little easier to deal with, whereas at the same time the novel implicitly warns against diving into it as purely fiction.
This novel does something weird. It makes you root for people you should not want to be rooting for. It makes you sympathise with Snowman when he has to hide in the trees, waiting for some vicious humanly manipulated animals to leave him alone, when at the same time it makes you loathe, or mildly dislike, depending on your personal outlook on literary characters, Jimmy. This is mind-twisting, because of the connection between Jimmy and Snowman.
Do not be scared off by the darkness that I see present in the novel, or by the sexism that inhabits Jimmy - this novel should definitely be at the top of your TBR list even if you have never read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel before. Let Margaret Atwood captivate you, and trust that Oryx and Crake will stay with you for life.