Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Virago: paperback published 2009: 433 pages
Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, now calls himself Snowman and lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.
Welcome to the outrageous imagination of Margaret Atwood.
With the exception of Orwell’s 1984, I don’t believe anyone does dystopia like Margaret Atwood. Let’s set aside her more famous The Handmaid’s Tale, and for the moment just concentrate on my favourite The Year of the Flood. Something has happened to the world as we know it. Something referred to as “the flood”. But goodness knows what, all we know is that it’s pretty devastating. Sort of apocalyptic in fact. Meet Ren and Toby, both trying to make it in a world where, at first glance, they are completely alone.
This is one of my favourite dystopian tales. It makes sense – in that it doesn’t make sense. No one really knows what’s happened, and when imagining the apocalypse, I don’t really expect people to go “oh, yeah, it’s because this happened and now this is happening”. I more imagine a “ARGH WHAT’S HAPPENING, I DON’T UNDERSTAND, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” situation. And so does Atwood, I think.
Anyway, we’re not here to review The Year of the Flood (but do go and read it). We’re here to review Oryx and Crake. But I have a very good reason for mentioning the former in relation to the latter. Predominantly, because the two are linked. Forget Ren and Toby for the moment, and their predicaments (if you still don’t know what I’m talking about, why haven’t you gone and read the book by now?) and meet Snowman, our half-crazed and completely loveable (but slightly cranky) hero. He is in charge of teaching the Children of Crake – a child-like green-eyed race of people created by Crake – about this new world. But why is he the only one left (or so he thinks), and why is he in charge of the Children of Crake, and WHY did the world implode?
Snowman is haunted by his past – his mother, his best friend Crake, and Oryx, the love of his life. He’s haunted by his past actions – some of which may have contributed towards this dystopia, full of glowing green rabbits, mutated pigs that are clever enough to hunt you, and where even a cut from a splinter could mean death.
Snowman undertakes a journey, back to his past, back to where it all began, and takes us with him, allowing us glimpses into the past until, in horrifying slow motion, we understand everything.
If I remember rightly, Oryx and Crake came before The Year of the Flood. Perhaps some of you have read Oryx and Crake, but now need to read The Year of the Flood. Either way, I’m sort of glad about reading the books the wrong way round. Somehow, it feels better “not knowing” when you’re with Ren and Toby, and “knowing” when you’re with Snowman. It might be going backwards, but it feels right.
Next book: Since I’m still not ready to have another go at a Naipaul, I thought I’d pick up one lent to me by my Granny – The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.