Lindsay's Reviews > Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Oct 01, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: dystopia, science-fiction, margaret-atwood, read-for-fun, read-in-college, postapocalyptic, genetic-engineering
Recommended for: diehard Atwood fans
Read in January, 2005 , read count: 2

** spoiler alert ** This is the second dystopia Atwood has written, and I think it's less successful than The Handmaid's Tale. Her vision here is of a not-too-distant future in which the US is divided into corporate-owned gated communities where the (biotech) companies' owners and highly-paid skilled workforce live and the lawless, sprawling urban wasteland where everyone else lives.

Unlike virtually every other Atwood book I know of, the two main characters are male. The narrator, Jimmy, and his childhood friend Crake grow up inside one of the gated communities, bonding over Internet pornography and shared cynicism. As Crake grows up, it becomes evident that he is a genius, so he gets accepted to an elite science-and-technology school and drafted into a biotech firm while he's still a student. While he works there, he cooks up an apocalyptic plot to release a superbug disguised as a libido-enhancing pill once he's perfected his own synthetic race of humanoids, which he designed as an answer to everything he's identified as "wrong" with human nature. For example, the "Crakers" have photosynthetic pigment in their skins, which means they do not have to kill to eat. Crake also designed them to be cheerfully promiscuous and have obvious signals of sexual receptivity, thus eliminating conflict over sex. Crake's a real humanitarian, except for the whole "kill off Mankind 1.0" part of his plan.

Structurally, the novel suffers from being too long and taking too long for the story to move forward. Indeed, the whole thing is told in flashbacks, with Jimmy reminiscing as the Crakers pester him for stories of their creator. Atwood erred on the side of too much description in Handmaid's Tale as well, but that was a shorter novel (maybe 100 less pages than Oryx and Crake) and the society she was revealing to us was better realized.

Also, a lot of touches that were clearly meant to be satirical fall flat. One of Crake and Jimmy's favorite pastimes in youth is playing computer games, and the games Atwood comes up with are transparent attempts to shock us with the nihilism of her young antiheroes. Also, every other object in the novel is given some cutesy brand name. This is clearly an attempt to mock the corporatization of global culture, but the effect is just irritating.

None of the characters particularly register, either. Two of Atwood's trademark Elusive Women figure in this novel --- Jimmy's mother runs off while Jimmy is a preteen, for reasons we never learn, and when Jimmy meets up with Crake again when they are adults, and Crake is designing his new species, Crake has a mistress named Oryx, who never allows either man to get to know her, though she sleeps with both. The difference between these and other Elusive Women (say, Grace Marks in Alias Grace, Zenia in The Robber Bride, Joan in Lady Oracle or Marian in The Edible Woman) is that the others either revealed themselves to the reader if not to the men in their lives, or (like Zenia and Grace) gave us enough interesting possibilities that we cared to speculate as to their true natures. These women elude not only Jimmy and Crake, but also the reader.

The men, though given (many) more pages of character development, are nearly as flat. Crake is a clear instance of metaphor abuse: he is indicated to be "mildly autistic," as the college he attends is nicknamed Asperger's U. and he disparages his old high school as containing "wall-to-wall neurotypicals." As his autism never appears in his behavior or becomes relevant to the story (indeed, it is never mentioned except in the chapter titled "Asperger's U."), I suspect it was only brought up to underscore the single salient point of his character, which is his detachment from the rest of the human species. The sole salient point of Jimmy's character seems to be that he is not Crake.
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01/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Snir I disagree with the rating you gave this book. The pacing might seem a bit off because of all the flashbacks, but those are the story itself, in essence. I also thought that the character development was good, and that Atwood created some great characters. I am not sure why you think the hero must be female and given more attention than a male character.

message 2: by Beth (new)

Beth While I haven't read this book, I did enjoy this review, and didn't see anywhere that said you thought the hero must be female. This is what was said in the review "Unlike virtually every other Atwood book I know of, the two main characters are male. "

message 3: by Beth (new)

Beth Just thought I would point that out :)

Lindsay I have only just figured out how to find the comments on this review, so I am replying to you now, four months after you commented.

I do not think the hero has to be female, no --- my pointing out that both the main characters in this novel are male is not a criticism, just an observation of something that makes this one different from Atwood's other novels, of which I have read many.

Kara I just finished this novel, and I agree with your review 100%. I generally like Atwood's writing, but had issues with the same flaws that you identified.

Lauren Agree, couldn't even finish the book and I love Atwood :(

Hayley Patterson Exactly the same misgivings I had about the book. This was my first Atwood novel. I am probably going to check out more of her books, since I enjoyed her writing stylistically, but this one didn't really blow me away.

message 8: by Zoe (new) - rated it 2 stars

Zoe Loved your review. I agree totally. The big reveal of what actually happened to society, and oryx and crake, happens around page 300 of this approx 370 page book. Way too much time mucking about in the past- with no real benefit to the reader, and not enough time on what actually happened to get us to present day. Not to mention the open ending? I hope that doesn't mean there will be a sequel.

message 9: by Beth (new)

Beth Lindsay wrote: "I have only just figured out how to find the comments on this review, so I am replying to you now, four months after you commented.

I do not think the hero has to be female, no --- my pointing out..."

Lindsay, I was responding to what the first commentor said about your review--not responding to your review directly It seemed to me that Tom had mis-read your review and thought you said that every character had to be female. His words, not mine. :) Just in case that was confusing. I couldn't tell in your response if you were responding to me or him.

Lindsay @Zoe - there is a sequel, called Year of the Flood, which I actually thought was pretty good!

message 11: by Margot (last edited Jan 03, 2015 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Margot I disagree with this review. I thought the way Atwood set up the story of this book was perfect. When we start with Snowman, we start at the beginning of his reminiscences when he is at the coast- which basically start when he was young, and I think this all ties into the story, giving us the background of the world. And as he progresses, especially when he decides it's best for his survival to go back to the Bubble, that's when we start getting closer to what has actually happened- with the "waterless flood", as well as with Oryx and Crake. I loved this structure. I am (im)patiently awaiting for the release of "MaddAddam" to find out what happens. Not to mention, I really want/need to know *why* Oryx and Crake had to die together.

Jasmine I agree with this review 100%. you were generous I gave it 1 star. I was irritated with the entire book until the end.

message 13: by Emma (new) - rated it 2 stars

Emma Lehker You just put into words everything I felt about the book. After such an incredible experience reading Handmaid's Tale, I was disappointed that her second dystopian tale was an utter flop (in my - our - opinion).

message 14: by ally ¯\(ツ)/¯ (new)

ally  ¯\(ツ)/¯ This book made me VERY sleepy. In fact, while reading it was nearly impossible to stay awake. SO bored. DNF.

Duane Excellent review. The present-day story was rather dull. If the book had been set up as two distinct books, one telling the back story and one telling the present story, neither would be all that compelling. Put together they are certainly not greater than the sum of the parts.

message 16: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Come on, people, must everything you read be excessively plot-driven and spoon-fed to you? You all must hate Faulkner, Joyce, Garcia Marquez, and McCarthy, huh?

message 17: by Emma (new) - rated it 2 stars

Emma Lehker There's a difference between Atwood's writing in this book and the prose of Faulkner, Joyce and Marquez, not to mention McCarthy (whose writing let's not even start with). These guys have the prose. Some writers have the plot. Many of Atwood's books have both plot and prose. This one, I would argue, has neither, nor much else to offer.

message 18: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Then you and I read remarkably different books. :)

Christa Errigo When read out of sequence, the true brilliance of the trilogy is revealed. Year of the flood first, maddadam second, oryx and crake third. Personally, the slowest for me was maddadam. Oryx and crake was a refreshing revisit nearly ten years later and after the more widely developed characters of Toby, ren, Amanda and zeb, much easier to appreciate.

Michelle Since when does Atwood mostly write about male characters. "Handmaid's Tale", "Robber Bride", "Cat's Eye", "Surfacing"- all written about women. :-( How much Atwood have you red?

Jennifer Kyrnin "a lot of touches that were clearly meant to be satirical fall flat." I can't agree more! Perhaps meant to be satirical, but I felt like I was being hit with a hammer every time she gave another lame-ass brand name. Yes, I know Ms. Atwood that you want to show me that these things are evil, but really, my head is bleeding now...

Justina Having read the majority of the book, I completely agree with your review. It's just a plain all around flat novel, with no real target or character development.

I don't mind that the main characters are male, I mind that the main character drives me bats with his endless mopeyness and anger. He's a loser, and I don't like reading about losers, unless they develop, which Jimmy does not.

Anyhoo, totally agree with your review, glad someone shares my thoughts on this disappointing novel.

Justina Michelle wrote: "Since when does Atwood mostly write about male characters. "Handmaid's Tale", "Robber Bride", "Cat's Eye", "Surfacing"- all written about women. :-( How much Atwood have you red?"

I think you mis-read the review. She says "Unlike virtually every other Atwood book I know of, the two main characters are male." Distinctly meaning that Atwood's novels at least encompass one main character that is female, if not ALL major characters.

Hannah Baugh I feel that I'm one of the few people to disagree with this review. I have read this book countless times and it will, always, remain my favourite book of all time.

Jeffrey I agree completely with your review. Well said.

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