Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood

Summary:  This post-apocalyptic novel follows Snowman (formerly Jimmy), who appears to be the only human left among a strange group of human-like people called the Crakers.  The naive Crakers understand nothing of the world that was, and Snowman has created a mythology to explain the world to them even as he struggles with existence himself.  In flashbacks, Snowman relates the events leading up to the catastrophe (or grand plan) that wiped out most of earth's human population by describing his relationships with a childhood friend named Crake and a former child prostitute, Oryx. 

Musings: I've read Oryx and Crake before, but since Atwood's new novel, The Year of the Flood, relies on the premise of the former, I wanted to reread the book prior to checking out her new one.

There is such a deluge of post-apocalyptic literature around now that much of the problematic society depicted in the novel does not seem unique.  This is not a criticism, but rather a note on how commonplace these types of dystopian societies are to readers.  The world Jimmy relates in flashbacks is consumed with physical appearance, sex, making money, and control (among many others) and uses deception and manipulation to achieve its goals, regardless of the cost to real people.  Atwood's novel goes a step further, however, by depicting not only the evils of this society, but the evils of choosing to correct this society.  Atwood's book asks whether remedy can be made within an inexorably flawed species or whether, to correct current problems, humanity must begin from scratch.

Unlike other dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels, the protagonist of Oryx and Crake is not a brave and determined hero seeking to carry on or enact change despite the overwhelming odds.  Snowman is alive--not particularly by choice--but he has little purpose in life.  As the novel progresses, the reader sees that his attachment to the Crakers gives him some goal, but even Snowman realizes that the people have little need for him.  Snowman muses, clearly thinking of his own situation, "Can a single ant be said to be alive, in any meaningful sense of the word, or does it only have relevance in terms of its anthill?  An old conundrum of Crake's" (Atwood 371).  Snowman exists without any clear or noble reason of why he does so.

The three main characters of the novel--Snowman, Crake, and Oryx--are important foils to one another.  Crake represents logic without morality; Snowman signifies the struggle between emotion and reason.  Oryx, the primary female character, is an object for both men, which is emphasized by how little the reader knows about her.  For Crake, Oryx is an object of logic; for Snowman, an object of emotion.  In neither is she a real person.

Atwood is skilled at filling her worlds with rich descriptive detail.  The bits of the story are pieced together slowly, as the novel introduces the reader to questions, answers the questions, and raises new and more difficult ones by the time the novel concludes.


  1. I've yet to read an Atwood novel, even though I'm gifting one this holiday season. Strange. I hear good things about her books, maybe this next year...

  2. Interesting review. I must read this novel soon. It's been sitting on my shelf making me feel guilty for about two years!