review: oryx and crake

05 July 2014

book info:
on sale: now
book info:
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 374
review written: 7.5.14
originally published: 2004

title: Oryx and Crake
author: Margaret Atwood
As the story opens, the narrator, who calls himself Snowman, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, and slowly starving to death. In a world in which science-based corporations have recently taken mankind on an uncontrolled genetic-engineering ride, he now searches for supplies in a wasteland. Insects proliferate and pigoons and wolvogs ravage the Pleeblands, where oridinary people once lived, and the Compounds that sheltered the extraordinary. As he tries to piece together what has taken place, the narrative shifts to decades earlier. How did everything fall apart so quickly? Why is Snowman left with nothing but his bizarre memories--alone except for the more-than-perfect, green-eyed Children of Crake, who think of him as a kind of monster? He explores the answers to these questions in the double journey he takes--into his own past and back to Crake's high-tech bubble dome. (summary from back of book, a part edited out because it contained spoilers)

My thoughts:
I came upon this book with no idea what it was going to be about--I only just gleaned the summary above and got bored with the unknown words (how ironic) like Pleeblands and pigoons. I put it down after a year because the first chapter didn't interest me at all. But I started it again recently and finished it today.

The story begins with the introduction of Snowman, an ordinary man living it what appears to be a wasteland. What follows is a chapter of a time when Snowman was not called Snowman, but Jimmy. Like this, the story is divided into sections where one describes the circumstances surrounding Snowman, and the other surrounding Jimmy. At first, this arrangement confused me but after I got a quarter way through, I became accustomed to it. This arrangement allows the reader to unfold the story like a delicate rose--my emotions ranged from perplexion, to vague understanding, to an ending that had my mouth drop. Unlike starting from the beginning and telling a story to the end, Oryx and Crake starts with the result of the plot (the creation of a wasteland) and slowly continues to its origins. It's a little unconventional, but I think it allowed the book to be as amazing as it is. I think Atwood is masterful in how she writes the development--for some reason, although I was reluctant, I felt the writing compelled me to keep reading. It was almost amazing how I felt like I knew nothing of what was going on, yet when I reached the ending, everything pieced together. The small details from the beginning of the book, like Crake and Jimmy playing computer games like "Blood and Roses" all made sense in the end. It's an amazing feeling, that moment of enlightenment.

There are only three characters to really care about--Jimmy (Snowman), Crake, and Oryx. Only Jimmy and Crake, I feel, had a significant impact on the story. Once again, the only female character of note took the backseat in the book and for some reason, she somehow makes this story a romance. I don't see it as a romance at all. The female characters in this book were disappointing--one goes crazy, one does nothing but obey the man, and the others are just numerous girlfriends.

The character of Jimmy was refreshing. Every other character in the book was scientific, a person of numbers, and Jimmy was the only one of words. He places an importance on words, on history, and their value. I think it's what makes his narrative different than if it had been narrated from another character's point of view. His voice is sarcastic, humorous, and intelligent. He represents the "normal" in his little world of eccentric people.

I think the story raises a bunch of questions about our world today--morality, progress with a price, the power of corporations and our role in how it all functions. Yet these themes, I think ,were somewhat secondary to entertainment. Very little actual action occurred, yet I think that's what most of the book was. These questions, of morality, power, hierarchy, were all subtly woven into the story in a way that modern dystopia (last 5 years) is just not written anymore. In the books I've read, our present is always the distant past. "100 years ago the Great War took place" or something like that, and the fact that it's happened if often very clear within a few chapters. With Oryx and Crake, I was so perplexed. The events of our present was still lingering, and the post-dystopia society hadn't had time to develop into anything more than primitiveness and I loved it.

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