Novel: Oryx and Crake [MaddAddam Trilogy #1]

oryx-and-crakeAuthor: Margaret Atwood, 2003
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Format: Paperback, 446 pages

You know those times when you promise yourself you’d check out a particular author or a specific book, but then years pass and you are still wondering what takes you so long? Oryx and Crake is one of those books for me. In fact, until this year I have never opened a Margaret Atwood book. Being Canadian I should be ashamed. Oryx and Crake had been on my radar for about five years now, when a friend of mine mentioned that the novel made her bawl her eyes out when she read it. So when I finally approached Atwood’s masterpiece I was armed with only that information and no other expectations.

The story introduces us to “Snowman” who somehow had survived an unknown cataclysm that made him the last known representative of human species on earth. He happens to be in charge of a new race of people, he calls The Children of Crake, who look like us, but are devoid of any imperfections: physical or emotional. Through Snowman’s memories and his exploration of this new world we slowly learn the progression of events that led up to the disaster.

There are interesting books and there are books that cannot be described as anything but gripping and engaging. Oryx and Crake in my opinion belongs to the latter category. I kept looking forward to picking up the novel again and again, finally spending a major chunk of my Saturday evening completely absorbed into the story (yes, I have no social life). This is such a complex book. All at once it is a social commentary warning us about the dangers of playing with nature, a shocking reminder of the horrors of child trafficking and prostitution, a grim speculation on what a future of corporate greed might lead us to, and a relatable tale of an unremarkable person struggling in the world of fierce competition. Jimmy (aka “Snowman”) to me is a type of character I really enjoy reading about. He is both sympathetic and flawed, broken and unapologetic. I wish I learned a little more about his scavenging life after the apocalypse, but getting to know him from his previous life was just as fascinating.

There are a couple of questions I would love to ask Atwood. Like, why did Crake really need Jimmy to get involved in the Paradice project ( I doubt his marketing skills were decisive factor in the process)? How did Crake take it upon himself to decide the future of humanity, and why did he choose not to stick around to see the fruits of his labour? Was he afraid he would be pressured to give up the cure thus ruining his grande plans? Was there really a love triangle involved?

Based on my interpretation of events, Crake was too smart for his own good – one of those tormented geniuses that wanted to turn the world upside down just to see if they can. His vision of humanity of the future was that of soulless, efficient creatures, fully integrated with the nature surrounding them. And while one can probably get the sentiment that Crake was trying to push here, Jimmy doesn’t fail to ask him a vital question, What about Art? Humans without war cannot fully appreciate eternal peace; without jealousy and sexual desire, who would experience the true need for love? I think Crake, striving for cool rationality, missed to realize that without one extreme there cannot be another. Unable to feel sadness, can we really say we can feel happiness?

Yet I think it’s Crake’s feelings for Oryx that really undermined his plans (*SPOILER* otherwise, why would he take the antidote, but still commit suicide? *SPOILER END*). I believe his initial plan was to see the old world collapse and new one rise from its ashes, all while being a detached observer, but falling prey to a feeling he despised so much as irrational – love – his brain just couldn’t compute what to do. I think Crake forgot that he too was human, and that his destructive plan would essentially be directed at himself, making the climax of the story rather ironic. He further fails his vision when Snowman sees The Children of Crake creating an image of him out of litter found on the beach. As it is pointed out, once art creation begins, so would the idolatry, inequality, possession, conquest, and final reversion to humanity as it has always been. Crake looses anyway.

For those who have read Oryx and Crake, can you comment on the connection between Crake’s goal to simplify sex by equaling it to an animal act, his creation of a BlyssPluss drug and Oryx’s past of sexual exploitation? I have a feeling there is something there, but can’t quite put my finger on it.

This book will count towards my 2014 TBR challenge.

10 comments

  1. […] Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood […]

  2. Sounds like a fascinating read – have to add it to my pile! Love the cover art you found for the header, by the way. Beautiful.

  3. Thanks Kasia! I find that the header image reminds me of Lord of the Flies, which is sort of fitting too. i hope you will enjoy the book as much as I did, whenever you get to it.

  4. Sigh! You have reminded me that I REALLY need to try reading an Atwood novel again (yes, embarrassing ……. another Canadian who has read almost nothing of Atwood). I tried reading The Cat’s Eye in my early 20s and was so bored that I swore I would never read another novel of hers again. But now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, I have been eyeing Handmaid’s Tale however Oryx and Crake sounds fascinating too.

    Well, I have just read The Great Gatsby that years ago I swore I would never read again so perhaps this year will be the year of reading the “hated novels” and revising my immature (or shall we say, unenlightened) opinion of them.

    Enjoyed your review, Andrea. I wish there were 24 more hours in the day just to read!

  5. I’m going to give you my lame example. I totally loathed The Lord of the Flies in high school, but upon a re-read back in November I loved it! I think there is time for every book, and a boring book might just be the one a decade from now on. Maybe I should re-read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O.Mitchell, because I wanted to gouge my eyes out over that one back in the day. 🙂

  6. The Cat’s Eye is also very very different from Oryx and Crake, so I would suggest not letting it deter you.

    I need to reread Oryx and Crake so that I can read the sequels.

  7. I’ve met people that absolutely love Cat’s Eye. I wonder what factor makes it either great or boring for different readers.

  8. I think you’re right ……. I would have a much different response to Atwood now.

    BTW, I hated reading <The Lord of the Flies in school too but I am really looking forward to reading it again now that I have some idea of the underlying themes. However I must say I still retain my original dislike towards The Cather in the Rye 😛

  9. Really? Everyone I talk to raves about The Catcher in the Rye, so it’s good to know the other side of story. This and To Kill a Mockingbird are two high school classics that I’ve never read and must take off my list this year. I can’t wait to form my own opinion!

  10. This has been sitting on my shelf for too many years, with best intentions of reading it, I seem to get distracted by all the shiny new things on offer, must do something about that, before the shelves topple!

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