Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and CrakeGoodreads: 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.

ReviewOryx 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.

Published: 2003

6 thoughts on “Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

  1. jubilare says:

    “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.”

    That is a very interesting thought. hmm…

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    • Briana says:

      This was the fourth book or so I read in a brief time period that did it. They all were somehow dystopian or post-apocalyptic.

      I finally concluded that Atwood did it because she was really going for a different tone. She wanted her character to look back and ponder how it happened, instead of writing a more “thrilling” book where the reader experiences the apocalypse as it happens. It makes sense, though I still found the book slow.

      There are other books, however, where it does seem like more of a ploy to build fake suspense. The characters just keep mysteriously referencing “The Catastrophe” or something, and I’m supposed to find this captivating and keep reading to find out what happened! It works to some degree, but my patience wears out after a few hundred pages. First, I begin to wonder if there’s some psychological reason why the character can’t just talk about it and must always use oblique references. Then I begin to wonder if The Catastrophe is even that interesting. Apparently not, since no one wants to tell the story.

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      • ravenousbiblioworm says:

        In respects to the “suspense” thing, with Atwood (I haven’t specifically read this book), it’s highly likely that it’s was a tone thing. It seems this book had more to do with people and emotions rather than events.

        Though I agree on the secretive suspense comment. Many YA novels fall into that trap and I will outright say, that without it [the “OOOOooOOO, we got a secret. *whispers* *whispers*] the story wouldn’t be able to hold reader’s interest because of it’s dull and repetitive storyline already found in other YA novels. The book I’m going to review tonight suffers from this… I call it being coy, leading readers on with poisoned candy… because in the end it wasn’t worth it. Sorry, that was probably very aggressive sounding, which had nothing to do with you or the review, but all to do with the book I’m going to have to leave a low stared review on…

        Atwood I see as an author who is more contemporary (in the canon sense) rather than commercial. Though this books sounds very interesting, I hesitate to pick it up because books that deal with high character focus, I tend to lose interest fairly quick. I do admit I am a “Michael Bay”-book reader more so than a Academy-award-book reader. So I will have to agree with you, that Atwood is also not my taste as well.

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  2. Krysta says:

    Another thing to consider: is the suspense the problem or the fact that the mechanisms of the author are too obvious? One thing that bothers me a little about Toni Morrison’s work is that it’s always so apparent that she’s trying to play with the rules. I’m interested in her stories, but the presence of the author keeps intruding upon them and breaking the magic. There’s a fancy literary term for what I want, right? Sprezzatura? You can play with the rules, but you have to make it seem natural.

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  3. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase says:

    I enjoyed Oryx and Crake, but it did feel off, and pretty slow to me. However, I loved The Year of the Flood, the second book in the series. We meet new characters and learn more about what happened to cause all the humans to die. I’m really looking forward to reading the final book, which, unfortunately, doesn’t come out for another year at least. But I totally get you with the pacing. 🙂

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    • Briana says:

      I wasn’t really planning on reading The Year of the Flood since it is about different characters. I am very generally interested in the plot of the third book, but I think I’ll check Wikipedia for a summary. I was told she tweeted awhile back she was finished writing it, but I never checked for the publication date. :p

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