Bonnie's Reviews > Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Jun 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: booker-prize-nominees, apocalypse-dystopia

I don't know why I seem to be on a dystopian book kick. Maybe the bitter heat is making me feel like it's the end of the world.

Anyway, I feel like after going through so many I'm reminded of what Tolstoy wrote: "happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." However, it's twisted around, because as far as I can tell, dystopian/tech punk/sci fi/whatever you want to call this genre all seems to be alike. Even non-dystopian futuristic non-space travel books have some of these classic dystopian elements (like Snow Crash), but manage to be less depressing about it. Giant corporations. Bread and circuses replacing culture (in recent novels, this means extreme reality TV). Unbridgeable gap between the mega-rich and the miserable poor. Slums. Enclaves. Drugs to keep the plebes in line. Desensitization to violence. Devaluing of life. Sprawling cities replacing nature. Especially in more recent fiction, corporations having more power than the government (which is a peripheral player, at best). Doomed to destruction by our own arrogance. And, if an actual acolpayse has occured, then the wasteland, hostile environment, your fellow man is as dangerous as any other animal you encounter, etc. I mean, I guess there can only be so many ways to write a book about how much life sucks and it's all our own damn fault. But still, every craptastic world gets a little less traumatizing to read about when you've already gone through the carathasis so many times.

Oryx and Crake, despite being repetitive after so many others of the same ilk (which could be my fault, not the book's) is good. I do feel like Atwood is hitting the reader over the head with how desensitized to violence, uncaring, selfish, blind, etc. the world is. Look, the protagonists watch child pornography! Look, the protagonists watch people snuff themselves for fun! Look, how very, very uncaring they are about their fellow man! I get it, reality TV will doom our souls. It's a short hop and leap from watching John and Kate Plus 8 and Fear Factor or whatever to watching executions for fun. Humanity sucks! I guess. I mean, it's not like less than 300 years ago people were still lining up to watch executions like we watch fireworks, which is horrible but did not signal The End of Humanity. And the corporations! The conspiracy theorists are right! They DO cause diseases just to sell the plebes the cure! And does America even have a central government at this point? I don't think the president even gets mentioned (if there is one).

Okay, so I said it was good and then went off a rant about the stuff that annoys me. And, again, I think I would have been hit harder and felt less like I was being preached at about The Slippery Slope if this wasn't the third dystopian book I read this week. If you haven't read many dystopian works yet, it is probably all very shocking and guilt-inducing. It reads quickly, it flows well, I didn't see all the twists coming. The moment when we learn about how Crake dies made me actually gasp. And I might be a very bad person for feeling like this, but I really, really liked Crake. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't ever want to meet him andd I think his logic is flawed and his arrogance is astounding, but he is one of those So Evil He's Interesting characters and I'm genuinely fascinated by how his mind worked. The narrator, Jimmy, on the other hand was kind of bland and more a petty evil (he seemed to care about people as little as Crake did, given his lack of friends, inability to emphathize with others and using women like tissue) but he kind of dithered around and lacked the courage of conviction that Crake did.

And Oryx. Oh, Oryx. She is like the sister in The Blind Assassin. I don't know if Atwood just did a really poor job at characterization or if she is trying to make a point about how the unreliable narrator never understood the character, so we can't either. Because Oryx has no personality. She refuses to take a stand, refuses to get angry about all the horror inflicted upon her. If we learned she was a robot, I would not be surprised. She was like Sonmi-451 in Cloud Atlas, who had the same non-judgmental, logical viewpoint. But unlike Oryx, Sonmi was created to be personality-less but nevertheless did develop one, since she was driven, badass and crafty as heck. Oryx just kind of exists to be a love interset/conflict for Crake and Jimmy. If she wasn't in the story at all I think it would've been better and the story wouldn't have missed much. In fact, I wanted more on the Crake and Jimmy relationship. That was where the real drive and conflict was for me.

And one last thought: I don't think the Crakers are human. They are not "a better human." They are an advanced monkey (and, yeah, so are we, but in a different way). Crake designed a race without art, religion, science or drive to improve/innovate. I read The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal, and Crake feels like he read that book, saw what Diamond wrote about our weird (and often illogical) differences with our primate relatives and thought "yeah, gonna get rid of all that." But he left in language, because I guess he drew the line between people and animals at language. Of course, it's implied that he failed, that the Crakers ARE developing art, religion, etc.

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