Wednesday, September 23, 2009

REVIEW: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. Published 2004 by Anchor Books. Literary Fiction.

As a companion to yesterday's review of The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood's latest, I thought I would talk about its prequel, Oryx and Crake, which came out a few years ago, and which I've just finished.

To be honest, the first time I tried to read Oryx and Crake, I threw it down after the first third. I found it dull and plodding; page after page, it just felt like nothing was happening. I wasn't particularly fond of the main character, Jimmy a.k.a. Snowman, who just seemed like kind of a dolt. And I was disappointed that Atwood, one of my favorite authors and one of the best out there at writing about women, chose such a dullard as her protagonist.

This time around, it was different. The pages flew by and while I'm still not in love with Jimmy, I didn't mind him so much. The difference? The difference is having read The Year of the Flood and finally understanding what the heck is going on in this book. Atwood unfolds the narrative slowly, oh-so-slowly, building up the story layer by layer, detail by detail; by the end, I could appreciate the full horror of what Jimmy had been through, but it really did take the whole book for me to get there. Maybe I'm a dullard, too.

Anyway, Oryx and Crake is Jimmy's story; it's a post-apocalyptic dystopian, science-fiction-y story about this young man trying to survive in a wasteland. Crake is Jimmy's best friend, now absent. Oryx is the woman he loved, an enigma and an illusion. The action unfolds on another Atwoodian double time line- the present day, in which Jimmy is trying to find food and other survivors, and the past, where we watch the disaster unfold. Slowly. When it does, though, it's staggering.

But then, Jimmy's dullness may be the point. One theme that runs through several of Atwood's books is blindness or willful ignorance- characters who see but don't understand, listen without hearing as Jimmy admits of himself. He spends most of the book ignoring or blocking out the world around him- drunk or high, or blotting it all out with food or sex. He doesn't understand Oryx, the love of his life, or really see her, and he fails to understand what Crake is up to until long past too late.

Did I like Oryx and Crake? I liked it more than I did the first time, and I liked it more having read Flood. It strikes me now as extended back story for a minor character in its much more engaging sequel- definitely a worthwhile read, but probably essential only for established Atwood fans or Flood aficionados.

Since there's been so much interest in the comments on my review of Flood in Atwood and her books, tomorrow I'm going to write an extended post with short reviews of all the books of hers that I've read.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Zibilee said...

I have this book on my shelf, but have not read it yet. I wasn't sure if it would be for me because I have tried to listen to an audio book version, and just couldn't get into it. I am glad to hear you say that it does get better if you have patience with it. I might try to read this one in the next few months just to brush up before reading the new one. Great review!

bermudaonion said...

It's interesting that the second book helped you understand the first book.

caite said...

I very much like The Year of the Flood and just posted my review today. I bought Oryx and Crake right after I finished Flood but now am not quite as anxious to read it.

Maybe I should read another Atwood, since I must confess I never read any before Flood, so I will be interested to read what you think of her other books.

Elizabeth said...

I'm one of the (apparently) few who really enjoyed Oryx & Crake the first time around - this makes me really excited to read Year of the Flood!

Anna said...

I have the Flood book, and I didn't know it was a sequel of sorts. Would you recommend reading Oryx and Crake first? I don't want to start the Flood and have no idea what's going on.

Diary of an Eccentric

ImageNations said...

Thanks for this it completes it for me, yet i would be looking forward to reading your comments as you have suggested...

Megan said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one to set down this book after the first try. I made it through the first three chapters and just lost interest -- which surprised me, because I'm a huge M. Atwood fan and I almost never put down books -- even ones I hate. I'll take your advice and read The Year of the Flood, then see if I'm motivated to try again.

The Book Club Guide

Rebecca Reid said...

I have a copy of this one but I've never been even slightly tempted to pick it up. It actually doesn't really sound like my kind of book. But interesting. Thanks for the review.

S. Krishna said...

Hmm, good to know. I was planning on reading Oryx and Crake first, but now I might start with Year of the Flood.

Marie-Therese said...

I was disappointed as well, although I think the whole structure will be clearer once all three books come out. Jimmy's kind of a holy fool. My biggest problem is that Oryx and Crake hardly make an appearance in this one. They are Adam and Eve.