i approached this book the way i was told to approach it (no one in particular said anything, but i got the general idea) and, well, i don't like booki approached this book the way i was told to approach it (no one in particular said anything, but i got the general idea) and, well, i don't like books about nastiness. you know, books about psychopaths, serial killers, and the like. not my cup of tea. the sociopath here would be zenia. but slowly it dawned on me, thanks in part to having read Dept. of Speculation (as i type this i don't know why, but maybe it will be clearer to me by the end of this review), that this book is not about zenia. not even close. this book is about tony, charis, and roz. you start getting this when atwood unravels slowly (something she never does for zenia) their stories, starting from their childhoods. and these childhoods are invariably horrible. so much abuse, so much loneliness, so much abandonment. later, they tie themselves to men who are much more valuable to them in retrospect, after zenia has worked her black magic on them. when atwood gives them -- these men -- to us unvarnished, un-zenia-ed, un-mourned, well there is pretty much nothing redeemable about them, and no reason at all why these women should stay with them.
except they (the women) are so hurt. they are so mauled by their terrible childhoods. so they stick to what they think they deserve. because bad, cruel companionship is better than no companionship at all.
zenia is a cypher. she is the empty form into which these three deeply injured women pour their demons. and zenia delivers. she delivers in spades. she takes the demons out of the box and smacks them powerfully into each woman's face.
and in the process, she does them a favor. except they don't know it, do they? they hate zenia, which is awesome because this possibly saves them from hating themselves (as victims do: they don't hate the perpetrator, they hate themselves) too much. and she brings them closer to each other.
the magic, the true white magic of the book is the care, the unjudgmental care (and yes, they may be snippy occasionally in their thoughts, but oh do they come through for each other!), the love tony, charis and roz have for each other. their demons bring them together, and, because deflected on another, manage not to tear them apart.
but here's another piece of magic atwood performs (because, really, com'on, who can write like this? who? no one, that's who). atwood takes these three women and gives as complete a picture of the complexities of three women's lives (not femininity, not womanhood, but many of us will still find ourselves there) as is humanly possible. in doing this, she covers with astounding meticulousness: fashion (for lack of a better word), natural eating, comfort eating, fancy-restaurant eating, farming, gardening, sexual abuse, religion (please check the fantastic chapter in which roz gives us a pretty formidable account of the christian faith), romantic love, parental love, childhood, loss, boating, corporation running, history, war, weaponry, battles, battlefields, language, etymology, escaping the US draft, desire, motherhood, loneliness, internal decoration, running a woman's magazine, toronto, canada, etc. etc. etc.*
so for this alone, for atwood's astounding power to observe and describe, for her capacity to capture lives in such an infinite multitude of aspects and reflections and refractions, i proclaim her the best writer ever. (not really). (but). (kinda).
*spectacularly missing, as always in atwood: race and, to a significant extent, same-sex desire. ...more
this is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thougthis is about the entire trilogy, not just this book.
this trilogy is unwaveringly fantastic. there is no point in any of the three books when i thought, eh, that could have been done better. so if you know the story you know the story and if you don't you can go find it somewhere (it's easy!), but here are the things i loved about this endeavor:
1. language means a lot. when jimmy is alone, language comes to him unbidden. words. strange words. beautiful words. words that sound the same as each other and thus allow for nice alliterative strings. erudite words. the world has ended (as far as he knows) and he hangs on to the past through memories and lost words.
2. this is another dystopian fantasy in which people are kind. the people who are not kind are severely brain damaged.
3. the trilogy tackles head on what it means to be human. are the crakers human? are the pigs human?
4. i think it's a powerful touch at the end when(view spoiler)[ it turns out that crake had designed a world in which various combinations of humanity -- mainly through interbreeding, but also through cooperation, as in the case of the pigs -- could repopulated the earth. intentionally, apparently. (hide spoiler)]
5. storytelling is central. the craker civilization, which we see at its incipience, is built on storytelling and, pace crake, mythopoesis -- which, arguably but not that much, go hand in hand. this whole aspect is developed carefully and lovingly, until (view spoiler)[ the crakers themselves take it over from the more traditional humans (hide spoiler)]. there is no history without storytelling and benevolent, invisible caretakers.
6. the crakers are a fabulous creation, worthy of Octavia Butler, really, except
7. i have never read anything that so completely bypasses all chances to upset the gender binary, when chances present themselves at every turn. whoah. there are men and there are women. men love women and women love men. the end. butler would have not missed this opportunity for the world.
8. i loved the parts when zeb is the first person narrator. the language (language again, see?) becomes markedly different, a skillful reproduction of what in literature passes as male language. well done ms. atwood.
9. some authors reach a point in which sentences leave you gasping for the way in which they are written. many sentences in these books spoke to me of someone for whom putting words together has become a matter of such expertise, she doesn't need to worry about getting it right. the language in these books sizzles. fantastic.