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 liThis 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 otherThis 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!...more
I know a lot of people get very emotional about criticism of this book, because it is a classic so beloved by so many. If poiInternet troll disclaimer
I know a lot of people get very emotional about criticism of this book, because it is a classic so beloved by so many. If pointing out perceived flaws (which are merely my personal opinion) are going to offend you like I'm defiling your religious text, please stop reading this now. I'm not declaring any truths here, this is all just my experience. I'm happy to receive respectful and constructive criticism, anything less will not be tolerated whatsoever.
I don't know much about British lit from this time period, but it is my impression that it was known for being much more verbose and emotive than contemporary literature in English typically is. This is definitely both of those things. Sociolinguistically it's interesting (at least to me) to think about why English writing became more concise and stoic (unlike present-day Spanish lit which carries with it a lot of pasión). I enjoyed the emotional characters, and wasn't bothered by the long-windedness of the prose, but the hyperbole got to me a little. When everything is the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, everything kinda loses meaning. Importance is relative, so with everything constantly being so extreme I found myself not caring about much, somewhat counterintuitively. No one had friends; they had kindred spirits cut from the same cloth. No one had loved-ones; they had flawless manifestations of angelic compassion enriching their lives. No one had enemies; they had wretched nemeses of unadulterated evil. Ok, we get it Mary Shelley, everything is a really big deal because there's no gray in the world. Maybe part of this is due to her being a teenager when she started writing this, and maybe also a prevalent writing style of the time? But kudos to her, all I could summon up at that age was some malt-liquor-inspired emo poetry--so no disrespect Mary, R.I.P..
She uses the word "countenance" A LOT. I counted 48 times in a book with around 200 pages. The word "face" was used only 29 times comparatively. Peculiar. Looks like the use of "countenance" in English peaked in 1827 (per Google's Ngram viewer), merely 9 years after the publication of this book. I wonder how much her prevalent use of the word in this book helped boost it to its max usage in history--food for thought.
There are a ton of beautiful quotes in this book, one of my favorites deals with the sense of guilt one feels when one ceases mourning a lost loved-one:
"The time at length arrives when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished."
Plot and character development
I have a couple of issues with the plot. These are things that I think could have been addressed with a couple of choice paragraphs, but weren't. Had these things been tied together a bit more tidily, I would have squeezed-out another star for this review:
1) A major problem:
Victor Frankenstein is a very intelligent, analytical young man who comes from an affluent and emotionally healthy upbringing--yet he never seems to fully understand or admit that whatever evil exists within the monster (which, it is debatable whether there is any at all) was put there by his own abhorrent neglect and abuse. Frankenstein feels endlessly guilty because he had "turned loose into the world a depraved wretch*," but at no point does he articulate that the monster was not evil by nature (I really wanted to say "naughty by nature" here). It seems inconsistent with his character that he would not have come to this conclusion; he was not an emotionally-stunted and ignorant man.
*Mary Shelley also liked the word "wretch" and its variations, totaling 64 times. "Wretch" peaked in English usage in 1799.
2) Another major problem:
Long before the monster commits any crimes, he is already branded as an evil abomination. Uh, why? Does Frankenstein think that there is an absolute correlation between being ugly and being evil. This simply does not make any sense. Oh yeah, and the monster looks the way he does because Frankenstein designed him to look that way, so... *turns head like a confused dog*
3) Yet another major problem:
Frankenstein spends months piecing together the monster in a manic frenzy, driven by a scientific obsession for dominance over nature that involves a lot of grave-digging and gore, but the moment the monster comes to life (which was the ultimate goal) Frankenstein basically unravels as if he had the most genteel and delicate of sensibilities, and is just incapable of stomaching such a ghastly visage (or should I say, "ghastly countenance" *winky face*). Uh, what? All of that corpse surgery didn't desensitize him even a little?
Throughout the book Frankenstein makes a habit of collapsing on the nearest fainting couch and falling into a "nervous fever" for months each time he faces a tragedy. How can someone who is so dramatically fragile be the same person who slogged through all of the carnage necessary to create the monster? More inconsistent character development is how.
I get that you are supposed to sympathize with the monster and dislike Frankenstein, but that does not give license to have characters contradict themselves on a whim whenever necessitated by the plot.
4) A minor peeve:
At the insistence of the monster, Frankenstein embarks on creating another monster to serve as a companion. He states that in order to make another monster he must first travel to England where a philosopher has recently made some discoveries that are crucial for his success. Even though he has already created a monster, by himself, he needs something from an English philosopher to make another one? Why? This is never explained.
I like the intricate and imbedded format of the narrative. At one point the narrative is a manuscript of a story of a story. Somehow these different delivery mechanisms and layers are not at all confusing, but interesting.
The big obvious one here is mankind's fear of technology; playing God and disrupting a natural order via our arrogance. It's the same thing we see today with the popularity of dystopian themes (especially zombies) in science-fiction.
Another lesser undercurrent here may be the instinctive anxiety brought upon by parenthood. You can do everything right as a parent and still raise a serial killer (although unlikely). I think this fear strikes at the core of what it means to be human and create independent offspring for which one feels eternally liable and responsible, but cannot willingly design or predictably wield. There is a lot of this in classical Greek lit--your child is destined to be the one who displaces you, ruins you, kills you, etc. There's something dreadfully romantic about creating your own destruction with the sincerest intentions. ...more