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The Heart Goes Last

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Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around - and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in... for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.

At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

292 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 24, 2015

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About the author

Margaret Atwood

578 books77.9k followers
Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Associations: Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers' Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,260 reviews
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,116 reviews3,957 followers
April 20, 2017
Be careful what you wish for:
“What if we get rejected?”
“What if we get accepted?”
When ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.

Cecily wished for the latest Atwood. Starting a new Atwood is a treat, especially one hot off the press. She has enjoyed nine* Atwoods over the years, all very different, but all excellent. Cecily’s not initially sure quite what to expect with this one, other than speculative fiction, with a dystopian twist, but she trusts Atwood with this genre.

Then again, there was a tenth* Atwood she read relatively recently that disappointed (MaddAddam, which I reviewed HERE), but she quickly dismisses that as a blip in an otherwise impressive oeuvre. Atwood is a powerful voice, who balances light and shade, horror and humour, prepared to shock, but not to harm or frustrate her readers.

And so on. The whole book is told in this way: third-person, from two main points of view, but with so much paraphrased inner monologue, it almost feels like first. That ought to be really engaging, but I didn’t really engage.

Overall, this starts off as speculative fiction and ends up as dystopian farce. It reads like a rehash of ideas Atwood has done better before. She can't need the money, and unlike David Mitchell’s Slade House, which I reviewed HERE, this doesn’t feel like creative exuberance let loose, so I'm puzzled as well as disappointed. Hence 2.5* for my enjoyment, rounded down. (If trying to give an objective rating, I would award 3*.)

18 months later, Atwood wrote another satire based in a prison. I liked that slightly more than this (3*), but she had better source material, as it was a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, titled Hag-Seed, which I reviewed HERE.

The Setup

In the near future, Stan and Charmaine are living in their car, surviving on cash and tips from her waitressing job, and ever fearful of being robbed or raped by those more destitute and desperate than they are. There’s been a huge financial collapse: Stan lost his job developing empathy modules for robots, and Charmaine lost hers organising entertainment for pensioners in a Ruby Slippers care home.

Then they hear about the Positron Project, in the town of Consilience: those who join are guaranteed a home and work. The catch is they alternate one month in prison with one month out. And that they have to sign up for life. And that they can’t ever leave. Or contact the outside world. And it turns out that the whole set up is cult-like and Orwellian. But hey, it solves crime, unemployment and almost everything else. What’s not to like?

How much resilience does the book have?
How much do I, as a reader, have?
Not enough on either count.

I never believed in this world. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Not from the outset, nor when there was more explanation.

"Be the Person You’ve Always Wanted to Be”

That’s a Positron promise, but what do you want to be, and what if you are, or want to be two versions of yourself? The thrill and the fear of “I’m not the same with him”.

This is explored in several ways: the monthly swap-around means everyone has an Alternate, who they’re never supposed to meet; several characters use, or are known by an alias; having another identity opens up new ways of being and behaving; and then there are the Elvises in the Elvisorium (yes, really) and the Marilyns somewhere, and the sexbots…

Possilibots – and a Step Beyond

Are sexbots a way to exorcise or exercise taboo desires?

Few people object to dildoes in principle, and inflatable dolls are mainly seen as joke material. Are sexbots any different? If they reduce sex trafficking and make a profit, that’s surely win-win, isn’t it?

But what if they are so realistic as to be almost indistinguishable from real people?
And what if they are modelled on specific people - who haven’t consented to their image being appropriated in this way?
What if you can programme them to say “No”?
Most chillingly, what about kiddybots?

But all those are just an interim phase of development.

Casual Homophobia

There’s lots of sex, all of it hetero, and none of it nice. Stan is passively, mildly, but repeatedly, homophobic. That’s OK; people are. But it’s never challenged. That’s not OK.

The Power of Love, the Limits of Forgiveness

This is the true heart of the book. And it goes last.

Could you forgive a one-night stand, a long-term affair, wishing you dead, attempted murder, or just obsessive voyeurism, stalking or fantasising about another? If your partner was pressured into such things, would that make forgiveness easier, or would you doubt how much pressure was required?

Does love make forgiveness easier, or mean the pain of betrayal is so great, that forgiveness is harder?
And does your own guilt about anything similar strengthen or weaken your ability to forgive?

“Stolen hours… stolen kisses”, but who’s it stealing from if your partner doesn’t know?

Maybe it’s better (certainly easier) to live in ignorance and, when truth intrudes, denial (a recurring theme, in various contexts). But that’s surely not sustainable in the longer term. Is happy ever after possible?

The ultimate test is having the power to go, but choosing to stay.

The final choice in the book, and indeed, the initial one, is between freedom and security.

Someone is asked if they want knowledge that will make them less secure, but more free. Would you, like Eve in Eden, choose Knowledge, or would you settle for security that is based on ignorance?
Freedom feels like the right answer, but security the easier one.

In an ideal world, there would be no need to make such a choice. But ideal worlds exist only in fantasy.

Big Ideas; So Many Possibilities

The final half dozen pages made a last-ditch attempt to examine some of the huge and important issues that were bubbling under the surface all along, but were never really explored adequately or convincingly. Too little, too late.

The issues include:

Sex of all kinds, most of it exploitative in some way; civil liberties; informed consent (not just sexual, but certainly including that); brainwashing and propaganda; social control and compliance (cf Zimbardo); capitalism and profit; sex; identity; criminality, punishment and reform; love, betrayal and forgiveness; euthanasia; human trafficking and prostitution; murder; “recycling”; care homes for the elderly; Elvis; surveillance; pornography; AI robots; what makes us human; blackmail and extortion; free will; industrial espionage; exploitative sex; the good of society against the good of the individual, and empathy ().

I think the book might work better if you start reading here, then go to the beginning and read the rest as backstory!

Blue Knitted Teddy Bears

A cute-kinky trope throughout the book. In her prison stints, Charmaine is in a knitting group (as well as her job in the bakery and then Medications Administration). All they ever knit are blue teddy bears. These crop up all over the plot: .

A Few Holes

I may have missed the answers to some of these, but they niggled and distracted, so reducing my enjoyment:


• “Do you believe in free will?”

• “He wishes he were the object of that excitement, and not the [new] dishwasher.”

• He asks “Do you miss me?” but wants to ask “Do you hunger for me, do you burn for me?” “He wants sex that can’t be helped” but instead, it’s “sex that [she] enacts, like yoga, with careful breath control”.

• “Charmaine finds switchover days almost festive… Living two lives means there’s always something different to look forward to.”

• “Chemistry can be like magic. It can be merciless.”

• Hedge-trimming is calming, like biting nails, “it’s repetitive, it imitates meaningful activity, and it’s violent”.

• “She gives good death.” (The heart goes last.)

• “They wanted her to use her head and discard her heart; but it wasn’t so easy, because the heart goes last.”

• “She wants something that can feel resentment, and even rage. Feel it and have to repress it.”

• “A plate of tousled breakfast leftovers.”

• “She’s been a distraction for him, but not a necessity of life.”

• “There are only two kinds of people admitted to the Medications Administration wing: those who do and those who are done to.”

• “Not that he gives much of a flying fuck about freedom and democracy, since they haven’t performed that well for him personally.”

• “A kind of damp, sickly, pious look. Reverence crossed with hidden lust, but behind that a determination to get what he wants.”

• They “let her pas because she is sanctified by mourning”.

• “An LED smile: light, but no heat.”

• “’Isn’t this nice?’ they coo, in case there’s any doubt, which there is.”

• “You’re free to go.”

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Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
October 24, 2015
I loved the beginning of this story. I was hooked. Stan and Charmaine were living in their car -
married- having lost their jobs.
I was also wondering when the bomb was going to explode, as I read several negative early-reviews, from trusted friends.
NO BOMB FROM ME.... I liked this book! I had fun! Sometimes it took me a couple of times to re-read sentences to attach my own imagination ( and my own understanding), to what was going on in a section of the book - but I caught on.
Honestly, I had loads of fun. Harder to review.

Back to Stan and Charmaine:
They seem too afraid to leave their car most of the time in the beginning..( the monsters would get them), Rapist and thieves were wandering the streets. Stan usually slept sitting behind the wheel as he wanted to be ready to drive off quickly if danger was near.
They needed a 'little' money for a few essentials and Charmaine managed to land a job working at night in a bar. Sandi and Veronica were the two sex workers that certainly made more money then Charmaine did. So when the girls offered to give Charmaine one of their
'jobs', ... a clean bed and shower sounded good! You can see she was tempted ...
but instead....
better news came soon when Charmaine saw a TV add about a living community for those
who were hit hard by the economic crash. People in the community did not need to pay for rent or food, but they all had jobs to do. (Sounds like a Kibbutz)... ha!
This wasn't like any Kibbutz I ever lived on.

In the new community, everyone had to spend a month in prison ( as an 'inmate' - paying forward any crime they may do in the future), lucky knuckleheads! THIS IS NUTTY-LAND remember! Hm?? Think spending time away for a month, in the hole, encouraged innocent people to consider committing a crime?
I couldn't help but think about 'life-as-a-crime'... (the hidden crimes all human beings live be it in their head or for real).
The towns people in the community also exchange lives each month when they went to prison, (alternating homes with whomever the other/s were living with in their sanctuary/bed..etc.). At which point extramarital affairs was just one of many chosen lifestyles that took place. The sexual fetishes were wild and not only with humans. I mean why not explore this topic? Seems to me we are exploring bionic body parts -mixed with human parts more than we realize. Atwood is just stretching our minds further in my opinion. (I'll repeat: I thought it was FUN)

There is blackmailing, and organ trafficking, and some chicken scenes
somewhat disgusting, putting it mildly, and soooooo much more!!!!!

This book is a satire...( either you like it or you don't). I don't think it HAS to be taken serious.

I liked the contemporary feel.. The normal and the very abnormal mix. I liked the every day sharing of conversations, the food they shared, their wardrobes, the Elvis is in Marilyn's, the music, the entertainment, the relationships between the characters, the make-believe everythings, the naughty robot, and the wisdom from Grandma Win.


Profile Image for Desirae.
2,015 reviews140 followers
Want to read
May 30, 2017
A new Margaret Atwood!!!!


A new Margaret Atwood!!!!!


A new Margaret Atwood!!!!!


A new Margaret Atwood!!!!


A new Margaret Atwood!!!!!

Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews322 followers
October 11, 2015
1.5 stars

There's not much more depressing from a reader's standpoint than watching one of your favorite authors tank spectacularly. I was cautiously optimistic that the uneven, rocky start of Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last was just a momentary hiccup, that she'd figure out what kind of kind of book she was writing (dark, broody dystopia? or comedic farce?) and redeem herself from literary aimlessness.

Alas, twas not to be. What started with a compelling premise and biting social commentary turned out frightfully insipid and silly. The juxtaposition was so jarring that at times it felt like Ms. Atwood was suffering from schizophrenia and playing "Telephone" with herself.

It starts with an (American) society on the brink of meltdown (probably not too far in the future) with a married couple, Charmaine and Stan, reduced to living in their car following their layoffs, who respond to an ad touting an edenic, utopian experimental city called Consilience where crime is nearly non-existent (as is unemployment), housing is utilitarian and safe, and food is plentiful, with the only downside: every other month all residents must cede their house/apartment to "alternates" and report to prison (called Positron). Predictably, Charmaine and Stan realize that they have gotten more than they have bargained for in their pursuit for a normal life.

What bothered me here was Ms. Atwood's tone. She took her initial premise (which, while highly implausible and far-fetched, had just enough serious gravity to give the reader pause and wonder "What if?") and transformed it into something farcical and banal. The net effect is half-baked: Dystopia played for laffs. (Hint: "Possibilibots" {essentially, full-size semi-sentient love dolls}, chicken-bonking and Elvis- and Marilyn Monroe-impersonators suck the life out of serious futuristic fiction.) Just...no.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,530 followers
October 20, 2015
Margaret Atwood’s new novel depicts another dystopia, but this one has a lighter tone than The Handmaid’s Tale or the MaddAddam Trilogy.

After all, it features life-size sex dolls and groups of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley impersonators. Plus: it’s partly set in Las Vegas! But there’s definitely a sinister underbelly to this world that, as in the best speculative fiction, says a lot about problems in our current one.

After an economic collapse, 30-something couple Stan and Charmaine are reduced to living out of their car, scavenging for food and trying to avoid vandals. Then they see a TV ad about the Positron Project and decide to apply and get in. Here’s the set-up: every other month, residents live and work in the twinned town of Consilience (combining "cons" and "resilience"), where they’re given a nice home, and Positron. On alternate months they scooter over to live and work in a Positron prison facility.

Well, it’s better than living on the streets, right? And the food is pretty decent, even in “prison.”

Things get complicated when Charmaine embarks on an affair with one of her “alternates,” a man who lives in her home when she’s in prison. Soon she and Stan are separated and individually discover what’s really going on inside the armoured gates of the prison.

Atwood has lots of fun setting up the bizarre Consilience community, which seems modelled after a 50s suburb and in fact offers up entertainment – the earnest, crooning songs and sanitized movies – from that same era to its citizens. What goes on in prison is a lot more troubling. (Let’s just say that the people who run it want what happens in Positron to stay in Positron.)

Atwood samples liberally from high and low culture, with the plot alluding to everything from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Stepford Wives to bad reality TV.

Stan, like a lot of Atwood’s male characters, is fully fleshed out; in fact, he’s more believable than Charmaine. Hearty scenes with the male workers at the factory where they manufacture the life-size dolls ring true. Atwood gets how men talk among themselves. She also writes some mighty kinky scenes involving Stan and another character I don’t want to reveal.

Beneath the raunchy, pulpy action, however, are some clever, disturbing ideas about the prison industrial complex and the hazards of role playing, virtual and otherwise. And while the title has multiple meanings, including a medical one, it also suggests something profound and mysterious about our capacity for love.

I’d give this 3.5 out of 5. It’s not among Atwood’s best novels, but it’s certainly entertaining. If you liked the “tales” in her previous book, Stone Mattress, you’ll probably really enjoy this.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,559 reviews851 followers
April 13, 2022
Just about still a functioning couple (and alive) Charmaine and Stan, victims of an economic crash, currently living in their car, come across what maybe the answer to all their prayers, Positron, a self-contained community with guaranteed homes and jobs. The catch, you sign up for life! The community delivers all it promises with a twist in that one month they get to spend together in a home with good paying jobs, and the other month they are 'prisoners' in a prison essentially working for fee for the community doing stuff like sewing, farming... oh, and applying the death penalty by lethal injection to community transgressors!

Now I reckon any other writer would have enough to play with just this, but amazing Atwood throws in so much more, such as ! Atwood's ability to write across genres, to write about the evils of patriarchy, and to write multi-faceted woman characters are all on show here, as yet again her creativity, her artful immersion of gender politics in her stories, her superb takes on speculative realities that are just around the corner and her exquisite pacing and styles shine through, and then shine through again. What a storyteller! 9.5 out of 12. Beware this book contains Elvis impersonators :D

2022 read
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,413 followers
December 8, 2015

Hey look! It's Margaret Atwood does the Stepford Wives! Hilarity and perversity ensues! But with an underbelly of nastiness that will make you examine your darkest desires! Your commitment to your significant other(s)! Your notions of free will and (ugh!) what it means to be happy! Happy at last! Smile goddammit!!!

I had a lot of fun reading this one, probably because it's easy to tell while reading it Atwood had a lot of fun writing it. It's the best kind of satire, one that doesn't take itself too seriously, while still having something serious to say. But this is medicine that goes down smooth and delicious, with little burbles of laughter and giggles and snorts along the way. I'd become so used to Atwood as "the serious novelist", the "literary icon", the dabbler of the dark dystopias and sharp feminist critiques. And that Atwood is here, but it's like she got a little drunk and smoked a huge bong and wrote this one with her hair down and shoes off.

This book actually started as an ebook serial project back in 2012, with the first installment I'm Starved For You. I jumped on it back then because I thought it looked interesting and read the first three installments before it fell off my radar. I'm really glad Atwood decided to finish the project and release the entire thing as a full length novel.

There's probably some filler here -- Atwood might have gotten away with shaping this into a tighter leaner novella -- but I enjoyed the world-building aspects of Consilience and Positron (the Stepford, 1950s-themed too good to be true community and its accompanying experimental prison). The devil is in the details and what seems so delightfully absurd on the surface, reveals some heavy, sinister truths when that first layer of paint is scratched away.

Surrendering your freedom of choice for the greater good always seems like the right thing to do, but somehow such social experiments are always destined to go off the rails eventually. I love the nasty implications of such social experiments gone horribly wrong, or hijacked for other nasty purposes. Humans do weird things when they are rigidly controlled. It seems it's not in our nature to respond well to being mere mice in a maze. We'll always find ways to act out and act up. I am not an animal! I am an individual! What's more, getting rid of "the man" in this scenario also seems impossible. Somehow, someway, things must be monetized. Someone has to be shown the money. And lots of it.

Atwood has a lot to say here about human sexuality too, and the nature of love -- both of the romantic variety, and the more lustful. As others have mentioned in their reviews, this is at heart a cautionary tale -- a be careful what you wish for narrative. It shows us at our most selfish and self-indulgent, revealing our perpetual hunger for assurances we are in the right place, doing the right thing, sleeping with the right person. That we are happy. Self doubt is a bitch. But wherever we are right now, whatever we're doing, whoever we're doing it to, it's by choice. We've chosen it today. We might choose it again tomorrow. The nagging doubts might be a pain, but they're our doubts. Replacing personal, individual uncertainty with a cold manufactured certainty imposed from without should never become more appealing.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews183 followers
July 8, 2015
This is awkward to admit, but I'm not really sure what to make of this book.

The Heart Goes Last takes place in a near-future dystopia where the economy has collapsed and with it has fallen all societal order. Stan and Charmaine are forced to live out of their car, subsisting off of Charmaine's meagre waitress salary, always moving to fend off thieves and gangsters and rapists that will attack any working vehicle. When Charmaine sees an advertisement for a new life in the symbiotic prison/town system of Positron and Consilience, she's desperate to take the plunge. And so Stan and Charmaine find themselves switching monthly between life behind bars in Positron and a soothing 1950s-style domestic life in Consilience. As the ads say,
But Charmaine and Stan soon realize that, just like their fifties ideal, a facade of perfection isn't easy to maintain.

Given the amusingly bizarre premise and the absolute absurdity of later events, I'm pretty sure that the book was intended to be black comedy. Unfortunately, I didn't find it funny at all. Part of this had to do with the themes. As with all of Atwood's books, feminism--and more specifically, the victimization of women--plays a major role. It's an extreme thing to say, but this book gave me the sense that Atwood just despises men. Most of the book's plot rests upon the assumption that men are basically sexual predators. In the collapsed society, they rape all the women they come across. If they're denied female companionship, they rape chickens. If they're afraid of real women, they rape androids. And if they can manage it, they do whatever it takes to rape the women of their dreams. The entire book is about sex, and every single example involves something with the flavor of rape, from Charmaine unprotestingly and joylessly allowing Stan to do what he wants to the more extreme versions found later. The men of Atwood's world are all driven by sexual desire, and deep down, they all want their sexual encounters to involve force. To my mind, there are certain themes-- genocide, child abuse, etc-- that are simply too serious to be treated comically. Rape is one of those themes.

Atwood sees men as predators and women as (usually willing) victims. I get it. I've gotten it since Handmaid's Tale. But this isn't 1985 anymore--or 1950, for that matter. Women may not have gained equality, but surely we can tell stories with a more nuanced message.

Maybe I could have survived the book if I had been able to warm to a character, any character. But to my mind, all of the characters were simply awful--and more importantly, unsympathetic-- people. I actually started to wonder how Atwood could make the characters less sympathetic, but apart from wringing the necks of a few puppies, I'm stumped. The heart may go last, but honestly, I felt that these characters had no heart at all. It might just be part of the whole "black humour" thing, and maybe it's just not my genre, but at least for me, awful people doing awful things made for a grueling, distasteful read.

I started out by saying that I didn't know what to make of The Heart Goes Last, and that's mostly because I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out if it was intended to be serious or black comedy. Some of the serious themes appealed to me; for example, the book heavily explores the distinction between being exploited and feeling exploited. Yet the plot certainly suggests comedy: every trope of B-movie scifi is mashed together, with additional absurdity thrown on top. Put it this way: Elvises (or is it Elvi?) get involved. Yet the themes and events, especially the ones that Atwood so thoughtfully explores, crossed the "not funny" line for me. There's a certain genre of black comedy involving despicable characters doing (and failing to do) despicable things, and this book fits neatly into that category. But it's not the genre for me.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Doubleday Books, in exchange for my (depressingly) honest review.~~
Profile Image for Dee.
61 reviews48 followers
May 6, 2017
When Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect, or when the unnamed narrator of The Committee eats his own arm after a harrowing ordeal with Egyptian bureaucracy, I believe the stories, absolutely. I feel along with the characters - no matter how bizarre the scenarios may be - because they feel human, living in altered worlds that nevertheless hold up a mirror to this one.

The bizarre premise and the weird scenarios in The Heart Goes Last are, as another reviewer calls them, absolute absurdity, and the novel's biggest downfall is that it's never really believable. Reading it feels like watching a ballet from the front row: you can see the dancer's sweat and hear her panting, and you're so aware that it's all artifice that you never lose yourself in the story. The plot in this novel drags laboriously from one bizarre eye-rolling episode into another laughable and ridiculous plot twist.

An American couple, broke and underemployed, is forced to live out of their car after some undefined economic disaster leaves the country a desolate wasteland full of boarded-up strip malls and fearsome roaming gangs. When they're given a chance to join an experimental community (where everyone is given employment and housing,) they quickly sign up for life. The catch is they must alternate between living one month in prison and another month in an enclosed 1950s-style community.

I don't understand how the products they make in this prison/suburban hell are competitive with those made in the developing nations, where everyone's jobs were offshored to in the first place? And how is a month in a tolerable jail any worse than a month in a tightly-guarded suburbia working a brain-numbing job?

I'd be willing to shrug off those riddles and suspend disbelief, but the absurdities kept coming. The prisoners rape chickens when they're left without women (for an entire month.) A man starts stalking a woman after finding her lipstick kiss and brief note to her husband. That same woman later forces the man to re-enact vaguely sadomasochistic scenarios before she suddenly drops it to send him out on a mission...

A ridiculous plot told in lackluster prose with characters who feel as real as Kabuki theatre performers. This entire novel feels in bad taste, like a funny B-movie where you see the strings holding up the UFO, mocking the reader's intelligence.

More reviews on my blog.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,560 followers
September 10, 2020
What starts off as inspired dystopic horror, a parable or metaphor for the ages, heartbreakingly bleak, soon after delves into bleh. The title tells all: the taut & pretty perfect prose of Atwood (sorry lame musicians & beadyeyed actors, THIS is Canada's BEST export) has heart until it just doesn't. The beating is thus finished, the rigor mortis sets in within moments....

This--her latest*--may just be my least favorite of hers. (Horrors!)

*not current
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,732 reviews14.1k followers
July 10, 2015
Not rating this. There is not much more I can take of this. Pages and pages of the sex lives of the four main characters, Enough is enough already. I'm done. Started out promising and than slid down from there. Maybe die hard Atwood fans will think differently.
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews419 followers
March 12, 2021
This wasn't a bad idea for a novel, however it didn't reach it's full potential. It just did not compare to some of Atwood’s other novels in terms of plot and depth.
Profile Image for James.
425 reviews
November 17, 2017
‘The Heart Goes Last’ is Margaret Atwood’s darkly comic dystopian satire. It’s a story of extreme social engineering which feels at first very light, somewhat populist in nature – the narrative initially feels almost predictable, however…

Margaret Atwood is not an author who disappoints, neither is she one who writes safe and predictable novels. Although the setting and initial premise here does initially feel as though we know where she is taking us, this is certainly not the case. Neither is Atwood playing to the gallery, nor writing to the lowest common denominator either.

Atwood ostensibly seems to covering ground here already explored by many authors before her – the potential pitfalls of extreme social engineering, where perhaps well-intentioned noble, naïve and idealistic dreams of a new, better and safer society are compromised by greed, avarice, lust for power, human nature…where idealism is underpinned by nefarious and self-serving aims, hiding behind the façade of the utopian dream. Is ‘The Heart Goes Last’ just one more story of a possible future where propaganda sells the dream, whilst overlaying and concealing the covert agenda of power grabbing and exploitation of the many by the few, resulting in the proverbial nightmare….? Well no, as you’d expect from Margaret Atwood, It’s not.

‘The Heart Goes Last’ (the title itself not what it might seem…) is certainly the funniest Atwood that I have read thus far. But don’t let that veneer of ‘madcap’ humour and lightness of touch fool you. This is a darkly compelling, intelligently written, thought-provoking and occasionally shocking story; it’s as much about relationships, love, commitment and betrayal as it is about power, corruption and lies, greed, fake news and propaganda, as it is about the possibility of a dystopian nightmare such as this one awaiting us – and perhaps not even that far ahead? The future painted here, albeit comically, feels all too feasible, all too worryingly possible.

Whilst not quite in the same league as: ‘Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, Handmaids Tale or Cats Eye’ this is an excellent novel by anybody’s standards. Whilst Atwood has a lot of fun with the potential realities of an artificially engineered, micro-managed future society within a society and the effect on human relationships therein; there are plenty of serious points and important questions raised here by Atwood in and amongst all the fun – dark though it is.

‘The Heart Goes Last’ is by turns: dark, comic, dystopian, shocking, intelligent, unpredictable, and deceptively light – ‘The Heart Goes Last’ indeed….
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,816 followers
April 29, 2016
Wow - this book was weird! But, very interesting an unique. Throughout the whole thing it kept changing directions so I never knew what was coming. But, it was not in a big plot twist sort of way, it was in a "how is that monkey going to get to New York? Oh, he is going to ride a turkey that is a disabled war veteran" sort of way. (if what I just wrote makes sense to you, then I am not explaining it very well)

If you like weird tales with a few laughs and a lot of head scratching, this is the book for you!
Profile Image for etherealfire.
1,210 reviews208 followers
January 18, 2019
What did I just read? Dystopian/black comedy? I know this book has gotten mixed Goodreads reviews. But I just kind of loved this.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
October 4, 2015
'The Heart Goes Last' balances on a tightrope between humor and horror - and manages to ride its unicycle all the way across.

The sharp social satire begins with Charmaine and Stan, a married couple, victims of the recession, who have been reduced to living out of their car. They haven't quite hit bottom: Stan hasn't agreed to go work for his criminal brother, and Charmaine isn't yet turning tricks at the seedy bar where she has a couple of afternoon shifts. But they're close.

Then, they see an offer that sounds too good to be true. An experimental community is accepting applicants, promising to provide the 'good life,' American-style, right out of Leave it to Beaver. Only catch is, the contract is for life. Well... maybe that's not the ONLY catch.

Of course, Charmain and Stan sign up... and what they discover is a horrific, but all-too-logical postulation based on our current economy and trend toward for-profit prisons.

Throughout the book, I found myself cringing and laughing simultaneously. There was a moment where I feared that the story was just going to become a commentary on failed relationships and infidelity... but no, I was wrong about that. More twists were in the offing, one more absurd than the next.

I have to admit, I really didn't like Margaret Atwood's 'Oryx and Crake' trilogy as much as I wanted to, and a large part of the reason for that was Atwood's sense of humor - it just didn't gel with me. I think the reason may have been that those were fairly 'serious' books (or at least, I was reading them as such), and the humor in them felt slightly misplaced. With this book, it's wholly satirical, so the unlikely absurdities worked. Imagine 'The Handmaid's Tale' re-envisioned as a comedy...

Many thanks to NetGalley and Nan A. Talese books for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is solely my own.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,032 reviews48.4k followers
September 23, 2015
Margaret Atwood has long been a wry, incisive prophet. From “The Handmaid’s Tale” to her “Oryx and Crake” trilogy, she’s exposed our current ills by peering down the path and discerning perils fast approaching.

In that time-traveling mode, I’ve just returned from next Tuesday and can report that her upcoming novel is a silly mess.

Several chapters of “The Heart Goes Last” appeared a few years ago in serial form on Byliner under the title “Positron.” At the time, Atwood told NPR that she was inspired by the serial productions of 19th-century novelists such as Charles Dickens. “The closest analogy is probably TV sitcoms,” she said.

There’s some truth in advertising there, which. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,571 followers
September 26, 2015
Atwood’s previous project was the Maddaddam trilogy; while there are still dystopian elements here, she is blending speculative elements with realist social commentary in a way that makes me hope she is leaving the overt absurdity of her sci-fi scenarios behind. I didn’t dislike the Maddaddam books per se, but nor did I feel that it was necessary to turn Oryx and Crake into a trilogy, especially when the two following novels only re-examined events from different perspectives, filling in backstory rather than adding new present action (see my Maddaddam review). It felt like a fairly indulgent ten-year project distracting Atwood from producing potential gems along the lines of The Blind Assassin, one of my favorites.

The Heart Goes Last began as four Positron short stories that appeared on the Byliner website between 2012 and 2013. We’re in a vague post-financial crisis, post-environmental apocalypse world, a little like California or The Road but not quite as drastic. Stan and Charmaine are a married couple reduced to living in their car. Charmaine works in a bar, but Stan has lost his job and won’t quite stoop to his brother Conor’s level of moving money around offshore. (It’s no coincidence his brother’s nickname is “Con.”)

One day Charmaine sees an ad for the Positron Project and convinces Stan to sign them up. Participants spend every other month working in the model community of Consilience…and every other month in prison. “DO TIME NOW, BUY TIME FOR OUR FUTURE!” one slogan reads. They share their home with another couple on an alternate schedule.

It’s a little like Pleasantville or The Truman Show: Consilience is stuck somewhere between the 1950s and a sustainable future. Doris Day and Bing Crosby play over the speakers (“The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened”), but everyone rides scooters and cheerfully goes about their jobs – Stan as a poultry inspector, and Charmaine in hospital procurement.

Yet Positron has some sordid and even sinister side-projects. With an echo of Animal Farm, Atwood emphasizes how seductive this ultimately oppressive community can seem: “Hey. Everyone’s different.” / “But some are more different than others.”

Things get weird as foul-mouthed Stan becomes obsessed with the sex lives of their alternates, Max and Jasmine. He imagines their lovemaking to be so much more passionate than his with Charmaine. Yet Charmaine, so seemingly bland and innocent (her worst curse is “Darn it to heck”), is up to something. What is she doing sneaking around derelict houses, and what is her top-secret job within the prison?

Gradually both Stan and Charmaine, separately, get caught up in a conspiracy to take Positron down from the inside. The wacky plot involves “prostibot” sex dolls (tagline: “Better than real”), Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators, and a Midsummer Night’s Dream-esque procedure that reprograms people so they fall in love with the first creature they see after they wake up.

This is all reasonably good fun, but, as with the Maddaddam books, the technology and naming tip over into pure silliness, and here there’s an added layer of raunchiness I’m not accustomed to seeing from Atwood. In distinguishing the fake from the real, the novel goes deep into unpleasant themes of fetishism and voyeurism.

I’m not as down on the book as the Kirkus reviewer (their hatchet job is quite amusing), but I did find it problematic. Charmaine is whiny and annoying throughout, as well as implausibly naïve. All the characters are similarly one-dimensional, even those with secrets. Moreover, the plot takes plenty of unexpected turns with some Shakespearean comedy reversals, but it’s downright ludicrous at times. There’s even a situation straight out of Ted, one of the worst movies I’ve had the bad luck to sample.

In short, a somewhat disappointing one-off from Atwood. Almost the best thing about it is the title, which refers to both biological death and the difficulty of faking true love. I long for the doyenne of Canadian fiction to return to contemporary realism or even historical fiction. There’s just as much scope in those genres for serious social commentary as there is in speculative fiction. Or maybe I should just delve into her extensive back catalogue instead.

(Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.)
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
October 8, 2015
This is going to be a difficult review for me to write. First of all, you should know that I love Margaret Atwood, from her poetry to her literary novels to her dystopian novels. I consider Oryx and Crake as one of my favorite reads and one of the novels I recommend most to people who either read science fiction and need a bridge to "regular" literature and vice versa. I quit a book club over that book, Margaret!

I was excited about Positron when Margaret Atwood was first publishing it in serial eBook form. You can hear me talking about the first three episodes way back on Episode 003 of the Reading Envy Podcast. I actually had to go back and edit that post because the serial eBook episodes are no longer available for purchase, and seem to have disappeared entirely from Amazon. It was a lot of fun - campy, silly, sexy - I was devoted and planned to buy all the episodes.

Unfortunately the transition from serial to novel did not go well. I had heard the book was "completely different" but that was not true. I'm not sure that came from the publisher so I am not accusing them of anything, but at least the first episode was present within this novel verbatim (the "I'm Starved for You" fuchsia lipstick part for those of you familiar with it.) The novel still reads like a string of episodes and the parts written to pull it together feel halfhearted. The beginning of the novel is actually pretty boring compared to the world that the serial version of the world started with. I think the back story should have been intertwined into the novel because by the end some of these elements are repetitive - in the way a serial can get away with, when you can't guarantee the reader has read all of it. But repetition is far from necessary in a self-contained work. In the end, problems like this just come across as rather lazy. And Elvis sexbots and mandated jail time can only go so far on their own.

Perhaps a novel can generate more money than a serial publication. I would have preferred getting to read something new. Maybe Atwood could have sent THIS novel to the time capsule and let us read the other one!

Part of my low rating of this novel is inexorably linked to my audiobook listening experience. I had a review copy that could only be accessed using Penguin Random House's new audiobook application, which has a way to go before it will be a viable product. I had to listen at 1x speed which made the draggy parts more draggy, and since my place didn't save, I had to remember where I was and restart sections. My original download ended at track 11, so I was stuck with Elvis on the plane and couldn't fathom that kind of ending. Luckily I double checked and was able to download the last three parts. I dragged my feet going back to it, which is not a good sign. I DO think the two narrators did a good job, and since the story alternates between Charmaine and Stan, it was a good use of voice talent.

I keep waffling between two and three stars, but I reserve three for books that are decent, good, but simply not for me. I'm afraid I like this novel less than that, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and I wish it didn't exist. It has left a bitter taste in my mouth. So I have taken it upon myself to add it to my science fiction and fantasy shelf, because Margaret Atwood hates that. (That does help a little. 2.5 stars.)

I was provided a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which you can see I have given. I would have bought this book immediately if I hadn't had a review copy, so I actually appreciate the chance to not make that mistake.
Profile Image for Eli.
219 reviews101 followers
January 26, 2019
WTF this was so fucked up but really not in a good way???
Me reading this book:

Maybe I'm just too dumb to get the deeper meaning behind this but I found it really disturbing and strange! All the sexism was just so bad and while I think I know what Atwood wants to say, I think she just couldn't communicate it as good as in the Handmaids Tale.


Buddy read with the best buddy read partner hehe 😌
Profile Image for Will Ansbacher.
306 reviews86 followers
October 3, 2016
Oh, man; this has to be one of Atwood’s weakest novels, and one that doesn’t really deserve a
It starts out promisingly, in a dystopian near-future, the kind the Atwood does so well: Stan and Charmaine are a down-and-out couple who’ve lost their jobs and home and are living in their car. It’s a mean world where banks and industry are failing, and casual rapes and murders are commonplace.

Stan and Charmaine are the sort who are taken in by time-share salesmen, and that’s more or less what happens: an opportunity comes along to join a mysterious movement that promises jobs, food, housing and good living – the only catch is it’s a one-way ticket : after you sign up you can’t go back.

The Operation involves a prison system called Positron, controlled by a private corporation. OK, we get it – if the system is big enough, half the population will be employed providing services for the other half inside. It's a workable model of an economy, though it is hard to keep a balance if there isn’t enough serious crime any more. Life outside the prison is so controlled and Disneyfied (it’s not obvious why it has to be that way), it’s actually hard to break the law. So, the population simply takes turns, month about, inside and outside prison, with no particular stigma attached to being a prisoner.

But Atwood can’t seem to decide where this is going: it’s certainly not satire, it’s not really dystopian, she seems to be playing it as a farce. It actually comes across as a weak imitation of that old sixties TV series The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan.
And the writing! Atwood used to be spare, sardonic, and sharp; here she’s tried to adopt the language of Stan and Charmaine and the result is just flat and lifeless. She’s even lost her deft touch with names - the town – Consilience – is an uninspired blend of Convict and Resilience: and just why "resilience" is relevant is not clear. (It gets worse – later on there’s a range of sexbots with the clunky moniker “possibilibots”)

One of the main problems is the couple. They simply aren’t interesting characters: they’re uncomprehending and credulous, easily manipulated into taking part in a rebellion against the corporation’s oily CEO, Ed, by several of his senior executive. Ed is highly motivated to provide a good return to the investors and without enough money coming in, selling prisoners’ body parts becomes the profit motive. As time goes on, even minor transgressions result in a one-way trip to Positron. And Charmaine is dim enough to rationalize her position as “Medications Administrator”, who sees them off.

Strangely though, not much is actually made of this whole business – it’s almost incidental to the personal lives ... have I not mentioned sex yet? Yes, there is a lot of it; both Stan and Charmaine are having affairs on the side – and the sex passages, while not being quite up to the Bad Sex in Fiction Award standard, are tedious and mechanical beyond belief.

But whoa! We’re only about halfway through the book! The rebels need Stan to be smuggled out of Positron with the body-part evidence, hidden among the said sex-bots and robot Elvis look-alikes; they’re made in Consilience and exported world-wide and especially to Las Vegas. There are whole chapters, not just pages, of backchat from the techies who make and calibrate the bots. It just goes on and on interminably and I should have thrown down the book at this point but I felt too compromised, having far exceeded my 50-page limit, and was grimly determined to finish.

It all ends with a whimper in Vegas, as Stan and Charmaine are set free by the by the rebel faction and (uncharacteristically for Atwood), live happily ever after in a nice suburban house with their kiddies.
So, meandering, pointless and not well-written - was this a parody after all? Maybe this was Atwood parodying Atwood? Whatever, it most decidedly didn’t work for me.
Profile Image for Meredith (Slowly Catching Up).
792 reviews12.3k followers
July 12, 2015
In the near-distant future, Stan and Charmaine are living in a world where the economy has crashed, violence and crime are at an all-time high, and there doesn't seem to be a way out. Once upon a time, Stan and Charmaine had decent jobs, a house they could barely afford, and a seemingly happy marriage. When the economy crashed, they lost everything and now live out of their car. One night, while working at a bar, Charmaine sees an advertisement for a life changing opportunity--move to the town of Consilience, where one can live a secure middle-class life. Stan and Charmaine quickly sign on the dotted line and give themselves over to the Positron (the corporation that runs Consilience). While their prayers seem to be answered, they soon learn all is not as it seems.

The Heart Goes Last is classic Atwood, packed full of twists and turns that will make the reader wonder what's better: a world where one can think for themselves and be free or a world in which one is secure, but has no freedom?
Profile Image for Mona.
481 reviews282 followers
December 13, 2015
Hilarious Post Apocalyptic Parody of Consumerism

The Old Girl's Better than Ever

Some writers fade as they age.

Not Margaret Atwood.  If anything, she gets sharper as she gets older.  

Her outrageous creativity and wicked sense of humor are front and center  in her latest novel, a romp through post-Armageddon North America.

Plot Summary

Charmaine and Stan are barely surviving in the post apocalypse Northeast.  (I think the collapse is ecological and economic rather than military, but it doesn't matter). They're living in their car.  Stan's lost his job and can't find another.  They manage on Charmaine's meager earnings as a waitress.

So when the opportunity to enter Consilience comes along, it seems to be too good to be true.  Residents spend alternate months in the prison there, dubbed Positron.  When they aren't serving time, they live in modern, clean, well equipped homes.

But, of course, there's all kinds of fishy and nefarious stuff going on beneath the gleaming surface of Consilience.  

Which Stan and Charmaine discover when it's too late to leave.


Plenty of Shenanigans


With tongue firmly in cheek, Atwood parodies our consumer and celebrity oriented culture.


All kinds of high jinks occur.


Both spouses become involved in affairs with their alternates (those who live in their house the months they are imprisoned), whom they're not even supposed to meet.

Stan is a reluctant adulterer.  He resents feeling like "an indentured stud muffin".   By contrast, Charmaine is an enthusiastic adulteress.


Stan falls in love, sight unseen, with the mysterious "Jasmine"  (I won't spoil the fun by telling you who Jasmine really is).


In Consilience, Prostibots (robotic prostitutes) are being manufactured and are a huge money maker for the town.  The Prostibots come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Stan woders if there are Prostibots for women, "Randy Andy the Handy Android",  he muses. The Prostibots have their good points.  "As an on-demand sexual experience, it's said to be better than the bonk-a-chicken racket that used to go on at Positron...No squawking, no scratchy claws.  And better than a warm  watermelon, too, the latter being not all that responsive."


Charmaine, thinking Stan is dead, realizes that she loves him after all.  At Stan's funeral she tells herself, "just pretend you're at the hairdresser's".  She thinks about all the people attending the funeral, especially those from her knitting circle at the prison.  "Oh thank you.  Thanks you for all your support.  Including when I really needed it and you treated me like puppy throw-up".


Stan becomes a reluctant Elvis impersonator, living in the "Elvisorium" in Las Vegas.  He's told to act gay, even though he isn't.   The Elvis impersonators do all styles of Elvis:

"Here at UR-ELF we have a wide choice.  We've got Singing Elvis - dances, parties, anything that needs a little showtime; we charge the highest fees for them.  Wedding Elvis, you'd need to get certified so it's legal, but that's not  hard around here.  Escort Elvis - that's for going to events, taking them out to dinner and maybe a show.  And Chauffeur Elvis, if that's what they want....Sightseeing around town and like that; they might want you to take them shopping.  I like that the best. And Bodyguard Elvis, for the heavy gamblers, so no one tries to snatch their purse.  Oh, and Retirement Home Elvis, we do the hospitals too, palliative care"

Charmaine becomes the "Chief Medications Administrator" in the prison.  (Again,  it would be a spoiler to describe what this job really is, so I won't go into it).   In prison, she joins a knitting circle who create blue teddy bears (the source of endless jokes).  For example:  "You wouldn't want to be caught with a hot teddy bear".  And "The woman is pressing her lips to a blue teddy bear in a passionate kiss.  'That's Veronica!' Charmaine almost shrieks.  'Oh my gosh!  She's fallen in love with knitwear!'  "


Charmaine is kidnapped.  


Ed, the CEO of Consilience, proposes some new aids to sex and romance in a Consilience town meeting.  A skeptical town resident asks, "Is this some kind of perfume?  With the pheromones, like with moths?  I tried that, it's crap.  I attracted a raccoon."


Etc., etc.


He sees a show "Green Man Group" (an eco-oriented. spinoff of the famous show "Blue Man Group"). "Sure enough, when the spots and floods go on, there's some fake vegetation with some fake birds in it, and when the first set of Green Men come bouncing out they're not only bald and painted a shiny green but also wearing foliage...munching up kale and spitting green goop out of their mouths, juggling onions and a lot of drumming...."  

Stan's then recruited to be in the show.  His brother Connor, a career criminal,  tells him "then hit the gong with a hammer and look like a dumbass.  That shouldn't be too hard for you".

As you can imagine, all of this is fertile ground for Atwood's lively imagination and outrageous humor.

Terrific Audio Readers

The audio readers are terrific on this one.

Cassandra Campbell (whose work I haven't always liked in the past) is absolutely spot on as the chirpy, ditzy Charmaine, an air headed blonde Barbie doll.

Mark Deakins, who's read other Atwood audios, is quite good as Stan.

Have Fun!

Do read this, but don't take it too seriously.  It's a lark, and Atwood's never been funnier.
Profile Image for Chantal.
456 reviews228 followers
January 7, 2023
I liked the idea around this book. It was intriguing and had a sense of the world's gone to shit but hey.. look a psycho community that will save you. The only catch is to devote yourself wholly and no communication with the outside world. Great idea, which was awesome for the first half and then it dragged too much. The ending was ok but I felt left wanting a bit more out of it.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Amy.
1,593 reviews132 followers
August 30, 2015
I am so uncomfortable with the idea of rating an Atwood book 2 stars but I feel like I have to given my experience with this novel. I typically love Atwood's novels - but this just didn't live up to my expectations. The premise is good - I love how Atwood views dystopian situations and I think this particular premise had a great deal of promise. And the book began quite well - I was engaged, interested and it was very readable. But, at a certain point, the novel went off the rails and just never made it back for me. It went from promising to completely bizarre and just didn't recover. I only kept reading because I was convinced that Atwood would take all of this oddness to a place that would redeem the entire work. Unfortunately, that didn't happen for me. It fell flat over and over. The plot moved quickly into ridiculous, the characters were odd (and not in a good way), the premise went to bizarre-land and never veered back and the tropes felt insanely familiar (perhaps recycled?).

I really hate having to rate this so low but I can't help it. I didn't connect with this novel and I think this may well be the worst Atwood I've ever read. If I were you, I'd stick to her earlier work (specifically - The Handmaid's Tale and the MaddAddamm series beginning with Oryx and Crake). She can be entirely genius but I just didn't find that to be the case with this novel.

NOTE: Received this e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
September 10, 2019

This title features on my Worst of 2015 list!

Actual Rating 1.5

The Heart Goes Last had some really interesting story elements and plot points going for it.

The main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are living in their car after economic collapse, with the money from Charmaine’s bar job their only form of income. They both used to have steady jobs, a nice home, and a bright future. They wanted to have children some day.

But now they have to pull strings in order to shower, and they only have the money to wash their clothes at a laundromat when they start to get particularly pungent.

Then Charmaine sees the advertisement.

Consilience is a new social experiment which offers stable jobs and a home, so long as they spend every second month in a prison-like environment. Prison-like because all the really criminal elements are quickly weeded out, leaving just the upstanding folk who signed on for this experiment.

Then it occurred to the planners of Positron, he says – and this was brilliant – that if prisons were scaled out and handled rationally, they could be win-win viable economic units. So many jobs could be spawned by them: construction jobs, maintenance jobs, cleaning jobs, guard jobs. Hospital jobs, uniform-sewing jobs, shoemaking jobs, jobs in agriculture, if there was a farm attached: an ever-flowing cornucopia of jobs. Medium-size towns with large penitentiaries could maintain themselves, and the people inside such towns could live in middle-class comfort. And if every citizen were either a guard or a prisoner, the result would be full employment: half would be prisoners, the other half would be engaged in the business of tending the prisoners in some way or other. Or tending those who tended them.
And since it was unrealistic to expect certified criminality from 50 percent of the population, the fair thing would be for everyone to take turns: one month in, one month out. Think of the savings, with every dwelling serving two sets of residents! It was time-share taken to its logical conclusion.

Of course they sign up right away. What could possibly go wrong?

The rest of this review can be found here!
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,298 followers
January 1, 2017
new Atwood = joy so huge I am terrifyingly contagious w/ it

I mean yes of course I loved this because I love Margaret Atwood more than anything anything anything (except for one or two things). But I don't think it's one of her best. It feels very rushed, very surface — like a preliminary sketch that hasn't been fully filled in, especially at the beginning. I'd have liked more buildup, more poorness and sickness desperation, so that we are more convinced when our heroes (?) make the decision to [small spoiler] move into this scary experimental community that is of course way too good to be true and that we definitely know is going to go bad, bad, bad.

And it does, in both predictable and less predictable ways. And the characters go bad too, but like really bad, way badder than I would have expected them to go, although of course the idea is that desperation and fear make you do things you never thought you would do, which obviously makes this, like every Atwood ever, crucial reading for these terrifying times, instructional or anti-instructional manuals for how to not fucking be if things in the here and now go as badly as some of us (ME) think they might.

So yes read it, read everything of hers, and think about the ways you will NOT go bad, when push comes to shove, because we can't just all fall apart and turn hideous, you know? Some of us have to save the fucking world.
Profile Image for Marie.
143 reviews44 followers
April 1, 2016
“Then he’s unconscious. Then he stops breathing. The heart goes last.”

A wacked, absurd novel that becomes obvious satire as the novel continues. As I read this book, I initially took it very seriously, trying to connect with the characters, understand motives, etc. However, by the end with the organ harvesting, blue bears knitting by inmates for the pedophiles, sexbots, green man group, Elvises and Marilyns it became obvious that the book is entirely satirical and meant to be comical. It also serves as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for.” Having someone who loves you only because she has had the laser treatment may not be so fulfilling and rewarding in the end. Perhaps loving someone so completely is easier if you think you’ve had a brain surgery to make you do so. This novel is very dark and makes you realize that the author believes we are heading as a society in a very unsavory direction.

I was so excited to embark on this novel after reading the premise: a couple destitute in this futuristic world decides to sign up for “Consilience,” a social experiment, where you spend alternate months in a prison and in a home with stable jobs within the confines of Positron. Their relationship becomes strange and a whole lot of sex ensues, none of which is really sexy. Their freedoms have been lost by joining this program and they have seemingly signed their own personalities away as well. They become different, much more superficial in their needs and wants. It’s almost as if having decisions made for them is appreciated, especially on Charmaine’s part.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood. This is the 7th novel of hers that I’ve read and maybe my 6th or 7th favorite of them all. She’s an excellent writer and this is humorous/chilling social commentary, but I just didn’t connect with it as well as I have some of her other novels.

For discussion questions, please visit: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=272
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,860 reviews370 followers
November 4, 2015
Atwood writes very believable dystopian worlds—this one is set after a global economic meltdown where things are getting pretty desperate for regular people, those who are currently being politically courted & labelled as “middle class.” Stan & Charmaine are living in their car, struggling to survive. Stan hasn’t yet knuckled under & joined his criminal brother’s enterprise and Charmaine is still waitressing and resisting the idea of turning tricks on the side for extra income. As a last resort, they end up in the Positron community—a prison town with a twist. Each month, the prisoners and the townspeople trade places.

It is also a cautionary tale: be careful what you wish for, for you might get it. You can have security and comfort, but is it worth giving up your freedom? You can have a robot sex slave, but is that really what any of us want? You can have another human “adjusted” to make him/her desire you, but does the thrill last when you know that your partner has no choice in the matter? Does sex actually directly equate to love anyway?

I would be interested to hear from men if the sexuality of the men in the story is portrayed accurately. To me, it seems that Atwood nails it, but I’m female and I’m just judging by the men in my own life and those thoughts that they are willing to share with me.

Ever notice how the dystopian worlds are always complicated by human sexuality? Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Zamyatin's We--The Heart Goes Last follows in the footsteps of these older classics.

Atwood’s strength, it seems to me, is taking events in the current news and spinning a future world where the implications of these stories is fully realized.
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119 reviews61 followers
June 15, 2017
*uuuuugggghhhhhhhhh* the ending of this book is so, so frustrating. I very much enjoyed the story, though it seemed so out of touch with typical Atwood fiction. But then, for the book to end on such a disappointing note! These people learned nothing. There is absolutely zero payoff. They did not retain their morality, after everything they had seen at Positron they still chose to move forward with Charmaine's supposed operation. It was so frustrating for me, to see these characters go through such a journey that somehow plops them back at the same moral standing they started the novel with. Definitely not my favorite Atwood.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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