Goodreads: The Enchantress of Florence
Summary: A blonde-haired foreigner arrives in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbhar claiming he carries a secret that will kill anyone who hears it—save Akbhar himself. His tale spans decades and continents, following the life of the princess Qara Koz, whose decision to forge her own destiny caused her name to be erased from the annals of history. The foreigner’s tale captivates not only Akbhar, but also the entire capital—but is it true?
Review: In The Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie mixes history, legend, and fantasy to create a story breathtaking in its scope and imagination. Although the narrative seems to build slowly at first, each word is like an exquisite jewel woven into an increasingly intricate tapestry; readers will find themselves drowning in the depths of a story so rich, so sensual, and so luscious that the plot could stand completely still and the beauty of the world Rushdie has woven would still ensnare them. Though the story ostensibly revolves around the titular enchantress of Florence, Rushdie is the true enchanter here.
Perhaps best classified as magical realism, the book seamlessly blends the fantastic and the factual, playing with the readers’ suspension of disbelief. Because some of the most outrageous claims are actually rooted in history, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction; the readers experience the confusion of the characters as they desperately try to untangle the threads of the foreigner’s tale to discover the truth of his journey. As his words begin to take on a reality of their own, however, the question arises: if lies can create so much beauty, is it still worth searching for the truth?
The Enchantress of Florence is a rare treasure among books, one that will make readers want to slow down to savor it, rather than rush through to discover how it ends. It casts a spell with its unique sense of the absurd, as well as its acceptance of that absurdity as a condition of life. Like the foreigner’s audience, readers may find themselves unwilling to break the enchantment.
Goodreads: Beau Brocade
Summary: King George’s troops scour the countryside of Derbyshire for traitors after the failed rebellion led by Bonny Prince Charlie. Falsely accused of siding with the pretender, Philip, the young Earl of Stratton, hides on the moors until his sister Lady Patience can deliver to London letters that prove his innocence. The man who accused Philip, however, remains hot on his trail. Only one man can help the Earl and his sister outwit their adversary, but dare they place Philip’s life in the hands of the notorious highwayman Beau Brocade?
Review: Beau Brocade should please fans of Orczy’s better-known work The Scarlet Pimpernel as it contains many of the same elements—a beautiful young aristocrat with her brother in danger, a dashing hero with a double identity, and a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing to catch his prey. Although the plot is unlikely to catch any readers by surprise, it proceeds apace—the majority of its interest lying in the budding romance as well as the various tricks played upon the villains by the audacious Beau Brocade. As is usual with Orczy’s books, the characters carry the story; hating the villains is almost as fun as cheering on the protagonists.
Beau Brocade has immediate reader appeal as he functions as a slightly more questionable version of the Scarlet Pimpernel–a man who lives outside the law, but who steals from the rich only to give to the poor (and always while wearing the latest fashion). Thus, although Orczy takes care to draw attention to his chivalry, his boyish laughter, his zest for life, and his ability to win the loyalty and love of all the poorer folk in Derbyshire, an air of mystery surrounds him; if this man is so noble, what crime in his past forces him to hide upon the moors like a common thief? That nagging doubt plays into his relationship with Lady Patience, who finds herself attracted to his honorable qualities but fearing to lose her heart to a man who could betray her for personal gain.
If Beau Brocade is the Scarlet Pimpernal (or perhaps a better parallel can be drawn to Blakeney’s ancestor Diogenes, hero of The Laughing Cavalier), Patience obviously corresponds to the Pimpernel’s love interest, Marguerite. Fortunately, however, she lacks that lady’s talent for falling captive to her enemies every so often so they can more easily blackmail the hero. I admit I had high hopes for Patience. Her brother thinks highly of her intelligence and good sense, and early on in the story she takes the initiative to discover his whereabouts and formulate a suitable plan for his recovery. She, too, quickly discerns the identity of their hidden enemy and takes various precautions to attempt to elude his clutches. By the end of the story, however, she finds herself unable to resist the relentless plots of her adversary and meekly places herself in the hands of the hero. Admitting one’s weaknesses and deferring to another’s strengths indeed counts as good sense. Even so, I wish Lady Patience had had a few more opportunities to exhibit the intelligence she clearly possesses. She has the ability to take stock of a situation much more quickly than anyone else in the story and tries to use this to her advantage. For some reason, however, things never work out in her favor, which leads to the sense that Beau Brocade is forever rescuing her–even though I think they would work remarkably well together as a team.
I thought the villain of the story was particularly notable, especially in light of comparisons with the Scarlet Pimpernel’s main adversary, Chauvelin. I suspect Chauvelin can gain the sympathy of readers much more easily, especially considering the implication in various adaptations (such as the musical) that he and Marguerite were once a couple. Chauvelin’s defining trait, after all, is merely his obsession with capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel–an understandable one considering his precarious position in the new hierarchy of the French Revolution. As book after book progresses and Chauvelin always loses, he increasingly becomes more pitiable than threatening. The villain of Beau Brocade, however–well, there’s a villain for you.
This villain lacks all honor, all chivalry, all trace of any finer trait. Perversely, however, he acts always with the intention of winning the hand of the Lady Patience in marriage. His love turned to obsession paints the picture of a truly warped mind–one so far gone that he would hurt the one he claims to love simply to possess her. He may not be threatening physically, but he is truly terrifying psychologically. One can almost see him tottering on the brink of madness. Even more terrifying, he retains the ability to enlist others in his cause–solely because of his place in society.
Though I am a fan of Orczy’s Pimpernel books, Beau Brocade still surprised me with the depth of its characterization (often hidden behind seeming stereotypes), the gripping nature of its plot, and the general feel-good quality of the story overall. If you like dashing heroes, scheming villains, and a good romance, Beau Brocade is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Goodreads: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Summary: After losing his job as a web desginer, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a store that has only a few patrons who keep coming back, borrowing–not buying–books in a pattern. When Clay attempts to solve the mystery of their behavior, he finds himself drawn into a secret world of puzzles and texts–which he just might need the help of a cute Google girl to help him figure out.
Review: Mr. Penumbras’ 24-Hour Bookstore is a quick read, with great pacing and a highly readable style. It features a great cast of quirky and intelligent characters, ranging from the mysterious Mr. Penumbra to a young Googler obsessed with the idea of immortality. It is strange that nearly all the characters appear extraordinarily talented and successful at whatever they choose to do, but I suppose the experience is similar to that of reading fantasy, where everyone is a hero, the world’s best sorceress, etc.
Many books are touted as “a book for book lovers” but Mr. Penumbra’s deserves the name. It does not attempt to appeal to bibliophiles with constant literary allusions, but instead takes on seriously the question of reading in an increasingly digital world. Sloane expertly combines these two worlds, paper and electronic, searching for a way to keep the heart of reading—the words and meaning—intact, no matter what the meaning. It is an optimistic vision, but it seems as if it could work.
When not philosophizing, the novel relies heavily on mystery and suspense. Readers, like the main character, want to know what is going on in Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, what all these eccentric patrons are reading or doing. On a first reading, the questions are pressing, and readers will want to keep plowing through to figure out what happens next, to see if plots will begin to come together. Unfortunately, the flaw of a book that builds itself with surprise is that is not surprising upon rereading. While I enjoyed Mr. Penumbra’s, I am unsure it is a book I plan on coming back to, or if I would enjoy it as much if I did.
Mr. Penumbra’s is a truly creative endeavor that will apply to anyone seriously interested in reading. It respects books, nerdiness, a desire for the fantastic in everyday life. Basically, it features anything readers will love—most obviously a mysterious bookstore as one of its main settings—featuring it intimately and seriously. It believes in reading and in making sure it has a future in a world of technology.
Published: October 2012
Goodreads: New Chronicles of Rebecca
Series: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm #2
Review: New Chronicles of Rebecca defies easy categorization as it constitutes neither a sequel nor a companion book to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. The stories contained in it take place during the same time as many events of the first book, so that it can almost be thought of as an extension to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Reader reaction to it will thus largely depend on what they expected to find in a sequel.
Personally, I always wanted to see Rebecca grow up and I looked for this book for years in hopes of discovering what sort of career she might choose or whom she might marry. Wiggin left hints but nothing concrete, and I longed for some sort of certainty. This book spans enough time that it suggests, once again, that Rebecca’s marital prospects lie in a certain direction, but readers never get to follow her on that journey. I had to accept this disappointment before I could judge the book on its own merits.
Since the stories in New Chronicles fit in between those of Rebecca, the timeline can prove confusing, especially to those who have not read the first book in some time. However, if readers feel comfortable not quite remembering who all the characters are or their actions in the past, they will find that Wiggins provides enough clues to allow them to orient themselves in a general way. As long as they can recall that certain characters are friends, others outcasts in Riverboro society, the reading proceeds smoothly enough.
Unfortunately, I did not find the stories in this book as captivating as those in the first. The focus of the stories seems to lie on how impressionable Rebecca is—thus, we have the rather standard account of how she forms a missionary society to save souls after hearing a speaker or the story of her attempt to find a young orphan a home. Some laughable consequences occur, but largely Rebecca seems to realize her own mistakes and clashes with her strict aunts are reduced to a minimum. It is hard to believe these events occur at the same time as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm—a time when a young girl struggled valiantly to make herself fit into a new society and please her relatives.
I did appreciate, however, the realism Wiggins brings to the stories. Even though the incidents she narrates are not highly original (a lot of them occur in L. M. Montgomery’s stories or similar works), she does not romanticize them too much. Thus, readers can never feel assured that the orphan with a home will stay in that home. Likewise, Rebecca’s amateur missionary society does not succeed in making churchgoers of all of Riverboro. Such doses of reality can make hackneyed plot points more palatable to the general reader.
If such stories had comprised the entire book, I would have been pleased enough with more adventures of Rebecca’s, if not overly impressed by the execution. However, portions of the beginning of the book are written as diary entries of Rebecca’s. I did not find these precocious entries, with their earnest attempts to sound eloquent and profound notwithstanding the poor spelling, very amusing. I think a lot of girls who longed to be writers have been there. Some will empathize with Rebecca and think back fondly on their own childhoods. Some will probably grimace in pain and a bit of embarrassment. I was with the latter, even though I think Wiggins’s attempt to write with the voice of childhood was a bit too naïve and earnest to be convincing.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is rightly considered a children’s classic, but New Chronicles of Rebecca lacks much that gives the first book its charm. Relationships and personalities are considered established, so that readers never see how much the love of certain people means to a lost young girl or how desperately that young girl wants to be accepted. Rather, Rebecca moves through Riverboro as if in her own world, going through the motions of what young girls do—play with their friends, go to school, make mistakes. She does not seem to live on the page in the same way and even a glimpse into her diary cannot make her seem real. After years of searching, I find myself disappointed by New Chronicles of Rebecca.
You Might Also Like
Goodreads: The Lost Prince
Summary: War has rocked the small Eastern European country of Samavia since the fifteenth century when an uprising overthrew the king and his son apparently faced death by an assassin. Centuries later, exiled Samavian patriot Marco Loristan and his friend the Rat believe that the prince may have survived and that his heirs wait in hiding for the day they can reclaim the throne and restore peace to their country. They dream of serving him and aiding his return, but what can two small boys do to help spark a revolution?
Review: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s works will perhaps inevitably always face comparison with her classic stories A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. Even without having to stand in the shadows of these works, however, The Lost Prince would never have stood the test of time. Its predictable nature and flat characters prevent all suspension of disbelief—never did I believe this story was taking place or even could. It presents itself merely as a mess of sentimentality and clichés.
Readers will most likely discern the trajectory of the plot from the first pages. Burnett provides enough heavy-handed clues for her audience not only to know who and where the prince of Samavia is, but also how he will regain his throne. Predictability, of course, does not immediately doom a plot; Shakespeare feels comfortable enough with his storytelling skill that he can announce the ending of Romeo and Juliet at the beginning and know that his audience will not abandon him. The Lost Prince, however, does not explore the idea of an empty throne in a new way. It does not raise interesting ideas. It does not even provide interesting characters. I almost wonder that Burnett did not bore herself writing the story.
The characters could have redeemed this book. However, they are too stereotyped and sentimentalized to seem real. Burnett presents Marco as the perfect young gentleman, trained from early days to act discreetly, politely, and bravely. He befriends a poor street urchin (the Rat) who has brains and wits, but lacks the means to develop them. This would have been quite enough for readers to accept, but the Rat must also lack the use of his legs. His name stems from the way he scurries about as a result. I almost stopped reading the book at this point because the treatment of people with disabilities was so sickening.
I also found myself annoyed with the inability of the characters to identify the lost prince. They possess the same knowledge the readers have about Samavia, so their ignorance can only stem from Burnett’s desire to maintain some sort of imagined suspense. Her clumsy manipulations of the story were prevalent throughout and always distracting.
The most obvious of the authorial insertions was the spiritual aspect. Midway through the book, Marco suddenly reveals that his father once met a Buddhist monk and received a divine mission to teach to the world the Law and the Order. Marco and his father never evinced any evidence of spirituality before this point, yet suddenly Burnett wants her readers to believe that they will restore order to the cosmos through their teachings. Restoring a king to his nation seemed hard enough, so this new goal seems unnecessarily complicated. It also seems unlikely, since Marco and his father do not even seem to live out this religion on a daily basis.
As a fan of The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and even Little Lord Fauntleroy, I wanted to like this book. After all, sentimentality and predictability do not necessarily disturb me. However, the plot seemed too forced to be taken seriously and the characters generally proved flat, unlikeable, or simply uninteresting. I will read more of Burnett’s lesser-known works in the future, but it seems clear that the majority of them must have fallen out of favor for a reason.
You Might Also Like
Goodreads: The Great Divorce
Summary: Finding himself in a grey town full of quarrelsome characters, one man boards a bus and embarks on a journey to heaven. The country there seems to him pleasant and desirable, but the pride and self-love of his fellow passengers prevent many of them from choosing to continue on.
Review: In The Great Divorce, Lewis envisions a heaven and a hell that, while not meant to be taken as literal representations of what might occur after death, explain some very thorny and some very nuanced theological questions. From the types of choices that can keep a man or a woman from entering heaven to the reason why a loving God could permit hell in the first place, Lewis posits answers in the form of an allegory that seems startlingly new even as it draws inspiration from a long tradition of Christian writers.
Although The Great Divorce may lack some of the subtlety found in the allegory of his more popular Narnia books, the ideas raised in it prove interesting enough to keep readers engaged even without a plot. Intriguing descriptions of a heaven where the grass is hard enough to injure and the leaves too heavy to lift mix are interlaced with the reactions of souls encountering heaven and the reality of their lives for the first time. The combination beautifully illustrates Lewis’s theme that heaven is real, earth the “Shadowlands”; heaven will give this life meaning and make even pain and suffering significant.
Lewis thus holds out to readers the promise of everlasting joy, if only they choose God. However, the obvious question raised is: what does choosing God mean? If readers hoped that no outright violations of the Ten Commandments would constitute a good life, Lewis quickly begs to differ. Through various characters, he illustrates a host of sins that may prove obstacles to getting to know God—not “big” sins like robbing a bank but the “smaller” ones so much more familiar to us all. Many of take the form of selfishness or pride: controlling someone’s life because one needs to feel needed, exaggerating the pain or suffering one has experienced so as to seem special, refusing to forgive someone who has done wrong. Reading The Great Divorce, readers may feel uncomfortably reminded of themselves.
To say that Lewis was pointing fingers or saw the world and its people in a negative light would, however, be a mistake. Lewis clearly counted himself among the sinners: his reflections on the nature of intellectual pride and the proper purpose of art suggests problems with which he himself would have struggled. But he does not leave humankind without hope. In a beautiful passage in which a soul dies to his sin, Lewis shows the sin transformed—the lust that controlled the man during his lifetime proves a small, sad thing compared to the virile thing that emerges when the desire is oriented properly. Lewis’s book is an opportunity for readers to examine their lives and redirect them.
Although Lewis clearly wrote The Great Divorce for a Christian audience, the ideas underlying it reach across religions, exploring timeless topics such as the nature of love, the meaning of life, and the definition of morality. It furthermore provides an illumination look at the philosophy that drives his perhaps more popular Narnia books. Christians, philosophers, fans of Lewis–The Great Divorce appeals to a broader audience than it might at first appear.
Summary: A square from a world of two dimensions explains the customs of his land and his life-changing encounter with a sphere.
Review: My understanding is that Abbott meant this book to function as a satire of Victorian society—hence, the ridiculously sexist and classist nature of Flatland. However, though I found Flatland intriguing, I did not continue to read for the social commentary, but for the mathematical fun. From the descriptions of how shapes recognize one another in a two-dimensional world (everyone appears as a line segment) to the depiction of Pointland, Flatland brims with mathematical humor and wit.
The first half of the book deals with Flatland and its inhabitants, customs, and history. Though this proves vaguely interesting, the narrator skips over the types of questions I most wanted to learn about—how the shapes move without feet and build houses or write letters without hands. The repression of women and the follies of the aristocracy provide some scandalous material, but I had trouble buying it all without knowing how these shapes do anything without limbs. Some pertinent background information would have greatly helped my attention. As it was, I had to make a conscious effort to suspend my disbelief and I was never certain the history of the color rebellion was worth it.
The second half of the book really makes reading worthwhile. The descent of a sphere into Flatland introduces our narrator square to the concept of three-dimensions, though, of course, he initially finds this as difficult to grasp as we do the fourth-dimension. A hilarious give-and-take between the sphere and the square ensues. Once the square experiences three-dimensionality for himself, however, he can make the mental leap to fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, infinite dimensions. If this seems crazy, readers only have to think back to the square’s former ignorance and suddenly the world seems full of possibility.
Lovers of mathematics should not pass this book by; the slog through the history of Flatland is well worth it to arrive at an exploration of some great mathematical concepts. Abbott then turns mathematics into a fascinating, but troubling, commentary on society and its resistance to new ideas. An insightful, eye-opening, yet humorous book.
Goodreads: The Borrower
Summary: Children’s librarian Lucy Hull is concerned about the welfare of one of her most loyal patrons, ten-year-old Ian Drake, whom she suspects has a bad home life but knows has been enrolled in classes to encourage him to become heterosexual. She was never planning, however, to find herself his kidnapper. The two embark on a cross-country road trip after Lucy finds Ian camped in the library overnight, both parties running away from home and pasts they know will ultimately draw them back.
Review: The Borrower, featuring a children’s librarian protagonist and alluding to a number of children’s classics, seems like the perfect read for book lovers. The story, however, is not particularly about books. In fact, it is to a large degree about Lucy’s issues with the anti-gay class in which Ian has been enrolled and her issues with the types of people who run such classes. She is occasionally rather preachy about it, and it does not make for a particularly fascinating plot. It also does not do the author favors in gaining an audience. Most readers will either be on the side Lucy insults, and they will be offended by the book, or they will agree with Lucy, and therefore have no need to read a couple hundred pages of her lectures.
The topic is just not overly engaging from any angle, and Lucy is not particularly tactful. She is very clear about the point that she is not a moral relativist by any means. She is closer to a moral absolutist who thinks Christianity is absolutely wrong. Fair enough. She is allowed to hold such an opinion, but one could hope she would a little more polite about it. She has a lot of insults for Ian’s family’s religion (again, fair enough, since most people, even those who oppose gay marriage, are willing to admit anti-gay classes are not helpful or effective), and she also has a lot of contempt for Catholicism. The problem here is that her disgust is somewhat uninformed. She laments that, at one point, she and Ian have ended up visiting a Catholic church. She first panics that the priest and all Catholics are violently anti-gay and will harm Ian on the spot, and then worries that the priest will force Ian into a confessional to spill his soul, and once he admits that Lucy has “kidnapped” him, the police will arrive. Classifying all Catholics as hateful is unfair. Believing priests force people—particularly non-Catholic people—into the sacrament of Reconciliation, is ridiculous. Basically, Lucy is an ignorant, somewhat prejudiced character herself, which is certainly allowed (Who expects literature to feature only likeable, intelligent characters?), but her personality will not be a draw for many readers, and could actually be offensive.
Otherwise, the text is creative, but Makkai’s writing gives the distinct impression of one who is trying very hard to sound literary and clever. The story might have benefited from a more straightforward style. The book also has a rather modern philosophy, in some conclusions about how life is not very happy and no one can really have adventures or be a hero or do much of anything worth doing. It is a hard sell to those readers who are idealists or who read books for some form of escapism. Yet The Borrower does have one big, positive belief about books, for which some of its other pessimism might be forgiven:
But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you.
I believed that Ian Drake would get his books, as surely as any addict will get his drug. He would bribe his babysitter, he’d sneak out of the house at night and smash the library window. He’d sell his own guinea pig for book money. He would read under his tented comforter with a penlight. He’d hollow out his mattress and fill it with paperbacks. They could lock him in the house, but they could never convince him that the world wasn’t a bigger place than that. They’d wonder why they couldn’t break him. They’d wonder why he smiled when they sent him to his room.
The Borrower, I am sure, does have an audience, but the audience simply does not include me. The plot was a little slow, the message a little forced, and the conclusions a little depressing. I wanted a book that was more about books and got one about the evils of certain Christian groups and Lucy Hull’s personal problems. Perhaps readers who have different expectations will appreciate the book more.
Goodreads: The Journey
Series: Northwest Passage #2
Source: Received from author for review
Summary: After the death of her husband, Michelle Preston Richardson attends her high school reunion in the hopes of reconnecting with her past and finding direction for her future. A spontaneous visit to an abandoned mansion, however, sends her back in time to 1979—her senior year of high school. As a secretary at Unionville High, Michelle has the opportunity to guide her past self to a brighter future while working towards her own second chance at life.
Review: Heldt’s follow-up novel to The Mine plays with the same premise of time travel, but strikes a more thoughtful and mature note as it chronicles the journey of a middle-aged woman bent on reclaiming her life, rather than that of a young man who still feels he has everything before him. The tone of reflects this; the book has a slow, quiet air about it, as if it does not want readers to rush hastily through the story it tells, but rather wishes they would drink a cup of tea and savor it. I think most readers will. The majority have probably made choices in life they wish they could undo, but only Michelle has received the chance to try. Through her, readers have the opportunity to watch a life go right. And it feels really good.
So, no explosions, no chase scenes, no fights or sudden outbreaks of illness. No terrible feuds or underhanded scheming. Nothing that readers might expect to find in an “interesting” story. This is actually a story about good people trying to do good things—and it works. Readers will care about these characters because they seem worth caring about. They are so incredibly average, the type of people readers might have grown up with or gone to school with. But they all have a story to tell, a personal journey to make. They are full of life, love, and potential—and Heldt celebrates that. Celebrates the ordinary things that make us all who we are.
The Mine was good, but The Journey really shows growth for Heldt as an author. It has a beautiful poignancy about it that resonated with me even after I had finished reading. I look forward to reading more from Heldt in the future.
Published: November 2012
Goodreads: Oryx and Crake
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy #1
Summary: Snowman is the only human left alive, and by thus by default the caretaker of the genetically engineered Crakers. As he watches over this new species, he teaches them and reminiscences about their beginnings: Before the world ended, Crake was his genius best friend, and Oryx was their lover.
Review: Oryx and Crake is a well-written speculative fiction that follows the question “What will happen once we begin to become highly successful with genetic engineering?” to what Atwood clearly thinks is its natural end. Her answer is rather bleak: First, biotech foods will become so cheap and efficient that real foods will be a luxury only for the rich. Social classes will be based on proficiency in math and science, with geniuses receiving the best of everything. Second, someone will eventually be smart enough he thinks he can play God, and the results will be catastrophic for the earth and the human race.
So does this seem right? Atwood does strive to base her novel entirely on existing science in order to lend some realism and actual terror to the book, but I cannot say I was personally horrified. Yes, scientists are working on some of the experiments she mentions even now, so this could happen, but I think I have a bit more faith in the human race than she does. There are dissenters in Oryx and Crake, people who believe all this science and “creation” is dangerous and wrong, so Atwood does recognize the controversy, but her speculation is that the scientists will be in league with the government and too powerful for the dissenters to stop. Again, this is possible, but Atwood does not give a clear trail indicating how all this happened in the first place, which makes it a little more difficult to buy into.
As for the story itself, Atwood tends to drag things out. Much of Oryx and Crake is about Snowman’s personal life, which eventually all ties into the dystopian plot events, but the effect is often more intimate than exciting—another reason why the book is not terrifying, despite its suggestions about our near future. This is also a novel where the entire premise is that the author refuses to tell the reader what actually happened until the end.
On one hand, I appreciate building suspense. On the other hand, I am beginning to be suspect of such books. Something seems disingenuous about telling a story where the author refuses to tell the story, but instead just leaves tantalizing hints for roughly 400 pages. One begins to wonder if the story is good enough that people would care if the story were just told chronologically –or if the book is using “suspense” as a crutch. In the case of Oryx and Crake, I do think the story could stand on its own merits. Atwood seems to be building a certain type of atmosphere by withholding information, since the story is from Snowman’s POV and he has to ease into thinking about his own traumatic past. Even recognizing this artistic decision, however, I found Oryx and Crake a bit frustrating.
Oryx and Crake is an interesting and a supremely thoughtful book. After reading this and about half The Handmaid’s Tale, however, I think Atwood’s style is a little too slow and boring for my taste. This may be another case where I will be just interested enough in plot events to read the Wikipedia summary, once the third book is published.
Content Note: Atwood is quite interested in sex. Much of this book focuses on describing the pornography Snowman used to watch and Oryx’s (possible) former life as a sex slave.