Thursday, October 29, 2020

Book 257: Oryx and Crake


"How could I have been so stupid? No, not stupid. He can’t describe himself, the way he’d been. Not unmarked — events had marked him, he’d had his own scars, his dark emotions. Ignorant, perhaps. Unformed, inchoate. There had been something willed about it though, his ignorance. Or not willed, exactly: structured. He’d grown up in walled spaces, and then he had become one. He had shut things out."

Dates read: August 25-29, 2018

Rating: 8/10

Becoming more aware of the world kind of sucks a little. Not being able to just laugh at the joke. Not being able to just let it go. The eye rolls and sarcasm. But once you really start thinking about it, the way the polar ice is melting at levels unseen before in the modern world, the way the waters are warming, the wildfires in the West, the way coastal cities are left vulnerable to ever-more calamitous weather and flooding, it's hard to just put out of your mind. And that's just global climate change, to say nothing of the countless other significant issues facing our world.

One day, something is going to be the end of the world as we know it. Superbacteria and/or a global plague. Nuclear war. Heck, maybe the zombie apocalypse. But why not climate change? In Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, it's climate that creates the void into which increasingly powerful corporations pour themselves. Soon, the divide between the haves and the have-nots becomes even more literal, with the highly-educated few retreating into city-esque complexes created and owned by business interests, while the masses are walled off into their own zones. Jimmy is born into privilege, to a mother and father who are good worker bees, and it is in the compound school that he meets Glenn, who becomes his best friend...and who ends up changing the world beyond what anyone could have imagined.

As an adult, Jimmy has renamed himself Snowman (after The Abominable), and as far as he knows, he's the last "real" human left alive. There's a group of genetically engineered people, the Children of Crake, but they're not the same. He's left alone, in a devastated world, with only his memories and his guilt over the role he played in it all. These memories make up the bulk of the book, with very little actually happening in an actual plot sense. Jimmy does venture back to the last place he lived in search of food and sunscreen and medicine, which forces him to confront what happened with Glenn, who became Crake, and the beautiful, reserved Oryx, who was involved with them both. How they died, and how the virus that wreaked havoc on the rest of the world was released.

It's a character study as much as a work of speculative fiction, and that's really Atwood's strength anyways. She loves to dig into the ways our little flaws can set in motion events that spiral out of control, to take the tensions underlying society and drag them up into the open. I find it really interesting that this book was written in 2003, the year I graduated high school, because so much of it seems to apply to the kinds of debates that continue to be relevant even now: just because we have the technology or knowledge to do something, does that mean we should? How do we weigh morality? Whose morality gets weighed? The writing date of the book does mean there are some things that come off anachronistic (she posits a world focused on disc-based storage, in which email is a primary communication method), a lot of it is startlingly prescient.

Clearly I liked it, but it was not without failings. The biggest, for me, was its lack of developed female characters. Jimmy's mother is intriguing, but we see relatively little of her and through mostly his eyes, reflecting on the way her choices impacted him. Oryx remains to the reader just as mystifying as she largely is to Jimmy, and while I could see Atwood intending this as a statement of how men tend to project their own stories only the women they claim to love (Jimmy is convinced he knows parts of Oryx's past, which she herself denies), I wish we'd gotten more of her perspective. And as much as I enjoy character-driven novels, I wish it had been structured differently, so that it was taking place in the present rather than largely in the past. These are relatively minor issues, though. On the whole, this book is fascinating and thought-provoking and one I'd recommend widely (though maybe not younger/less sophisticated teenagers).

One year ago, I was reading: Patron Saints of Nothing

Two years ago, I was reading: Seduction

Three years ago, I was reading: The Book Thief

Four years ago, I was reading: The Confessions of St. Augustine

Five years ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology


  1. I’m glad you liked it! This is one of my favorite books ever, but I haven’t found many other people who enjoyed it. I love Margaret Atwood’s flawed, selfish characters.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I love Margaret Atwood so much! I thought this book was brilliant and I can't wait to read the sequels