I liked the first book a lot, and I liked this one much more. On to the third!
The first two books cover roughly the same time period, shortly before the apocalyptic plague (A.K.A., "The Waterless Flood") until shortly after. Both books interleave the narrator's/narrators' backstory with the present day.
The first book is narrated by Jimmy (A.K.A. Snowman), an emotionally-stunted man who is remarkable only in that he is so average. He witnesses the events unfold from within the corporate compounds, and unwittingly plays a key role in the downfall of society.
The second book has two narrators, Toby and Ren. They are both members of an apocalyptic vegetarian Christian cult (God's Gardeners) that rejects materialism and promotes preparedness for the end of times. Toby experiences the cult as an adult, and Ren as a child. This cult lives outside of the corporate compounds, in the slumlands.
It was very interesting to experience the books' events through the perspective of three interconnected narrators--and having so much background on each made this multi-faceted view all the richer. I read the second book immediately after the first, but I still feel like I may have missed some subtle connections in the plot. The reason for this is that things/people mentioned in passing from one perspective are mentioned in great detail from another--so you find yourself thinking, "What was it that the other character said about this briefly and hundreds of pages ago? I bet if I remembered it would really tie some things together." I think this trilogy would probably benefit from a re-read.
I liked this book so much more than the first because the worldview of the cult was so fascinating and three-dimensional; the chapters were even interspersed with brief sermons and hymns. I enjoyed their spiritualism, and empathized with their plight in spite of being the least religious person possible. A special favorite of mine was how they would wish someone well by saying that they would "put light" around them--I'm going to start saying that now, ha ha. Another great quality of this book is that Toby and Ren were much more emotionally accessible as central characters.
As with the first novel, Margaret Atwood delivers some pretty good lines. Here are some examples:
"Also I could hear Amanda’s voice: Why are you being so weak? Love’s never a fair trade. So Jimmy’s tired of you, so what, there’s guys all over the place like germs, and you can pick them like flowers and toss them away when they’re wilted. But you have to act like you’re having a spectacular time and every day’s a party."
"Maybe sadness was a kind of hunger, she thought. Maybe the two went together."
"Yet each flower, each twig, each pebble, shines as though illuminated from within, as once before, on her first day in the Garden. It’s the stress, it’s the adrenalin, it’s a chemical effect: she knows this well enough. But why is it built in? she thinks. Why are we designed to see the world as supremely beautiful just as we’re about to be snuffed? Do rabbits feel the same as the fox teeth bite down on their necks? Is it mercy?"
This is the first Margaret Atwood book I've read, and I really enjoyed it. I'm going to continue with the trilogy until I run out of steam.
I really li...moreThis is the first Margaret Atwood book I've read, and I really enjoyed it. I'm going to continue with the trilogy until I run out of steam.
I really like how the book was organized--interleaving the present day with the story of everything that lead to the present state of affairs. I also liked the really short chapters, it helps with my typically scattered attention span. Good writing doesn't have to be verbose and unending, this is an example of that; the chapters being little literary nuggets, and the writing being meaningful without being drawn-out. I also liked her character development of the narrator (really the only round character). I'm a sucker for the antihero--the Joe/Jane Shmoe who fails kinda hard but is a good person nevertheless. Atwood also does some clever things with the English language; some fairly ingenious description at times.
Now to describe the dystopia flavor. There is a huge class chasm, with the elite living within the confines of suburban-like walled sectors, and the rest of humanity living on the outside in slum-like wastelands. The goings-on within the sectors seem to be run almost entirely by powerful corporations. These corporations develop products via genetic engineering without any regard for bioethics and then hawk these products to the public via a soulless marketing division. From a very high-level like this, the world described in this book is not too far off from some present-day realities. Like most dystopias it is a cautionary tale with a simple formula--take what we fear now and follow it down a path until it is way worse, then presto! A dystopia.
I could have done without the human trafficking/child porn ring subplot, but I guess those things actually do happen. Not that I want to bury my head in the sand about horrible things that happen in the world, but maybe I didn't need this described so vividly and disturbingly? At a couple of points I wanted to gouge out my eyes, stab myself in the brain, and drink some bleach. *shudder* Another aspect of this that made it hard to read was that it wasn't described in a tone of disgust/outrage; just very matter-of-factly and with a morbid curiosity--ick. Undoubtedly, this was presented to the reader in this way to drive-home the point that people in the future are so much more incredibly desensitized to violence and horror than most of us are today.
This is the second book I've read by Kazuo Ishiguro, and there are some notable similarities between the two even though this is a novel and the other...moreThis is the second book I've read by Kazuo Ishiguro, and there are some notable similarities between the two even though this is a novel and the other is a collection of short stories ("Nocturnes"). Firstly, there is the theme of music; this was the unifying theme of the short stories, and a fairly important one in this novel (the title of the book is a song title, for example). Other similarities that come to mind:
-Casual style -Reflective first-person narrative -Easy-going narrator, faces manipulative personalities -Excellent portrayal of the nuances of human personality and interpersonal communication
My only criticism of this book is that at times it seemed a bit slow. The meandering and interweaving storylines, and tangents added to the authenticity of the storytelling style of the book, but it also felt like there was a lot of buildup and not a lot of answers until nearly the end of the book. This also made for a page-turner because I wanted to get to those answers. I'll be reading more by Ishiguro!(less)
This novel deals with six nested (and interrelated) stories that transcend time, place, culture, literary style, language, and format. The main theme...moreThis novel deals with six nested (and interrelated) stories that transcend time, place, culture, literary style, language, and format. The main theme throughout is humanity's battle with its dual nature, predator/prey. Should one succumb to the ruthlessness and exploitation needed for survival, or rise above--attempting to heal a broken world with kindness, albeit only minimally?
Something that I felt took away from the book was that the connection between stories was at times ambiguous and/or seemingly tenuous. My impression is that this was done intentionally by the author, leaving subtle breadcrumbs for the reader, tempting them to delve deeper in order to understand the multi-leveled plot. This is one of those books where you gain a new perspective each time through. So in this respect, what it asks of the reader is a considerably tall order.
I also found the characters and plot of the 2nd/4th story hard to feel invested in, but that is merely a personal opinion.
The language of stories 1 and 6 (most distant past and future) took some getting used to, but also added to their authenticity--impressively so.
Perhaps my harshest criticism of this book is the ending of my favorite story (the 5th). It was largely rushed, contradictory, and unsatisfying. I doubt an author of David Mitchell's caliber commits these "errors" without the errors being (somehow?) the aim. While most likely intentional, this element was detracting nevertheless.
Mitchell is truly a master craftsman of literature and language. I would strongly recommend this book solely because of it's ingenuity, but it was also very beautiful in parts. The narrative showcases humanity's brutality and tenderness side-by-side and cyclically, in a way that provokes a deep sense of responsibility, and somehow hope as well.(less)
The language is simple, not flowery, yet the descriptions of details give the characters a human pulse. Quick, short chapters that have a point and mo...moreThe language is simple, not flowery, yet the descriptions of details give the characters a human pulse. Quick, short chapters that have a point and move on, making it easy to get into. I would have given this 5 stars if there had been a little more back-story, or if the story lines were tied together a bit more tidily. Fairly gruesome horror, not for the faint of heart.(less)