About Time I Read It: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Imagine a world set in a near future so ravaged by environmental damage that the eastern seaboard’s major cities like New York and Boston are underwater, courtesy of melted glaciers. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere tropical temperatures are the norm in January. With the ozone layer shot, one runs the risk of being sunburned to a crisp if foolish enough to venture about during daylight hours without the protection of  sunscreen.

As for human society, the United States, Canada and the rest of industrialized world has bifurcated into two disparate worlds. One is a world of comfort and privilege, in which scientists, genetic engineers and their families live in hermetically sealed communities, each one connected to the other by futuristic bullet-trains. The other is the anarchic and crime-ridden Pleeblands, a grim world of rampant viruses, terrorism and poverty.

Now if you think that sounds bad, imagine that above-mentioned dystopia was actually the world of your childhood. Years later, you are the sole survivor of a devastating plague that has killed all the earth’s human inhabitants. Your only companions are a small colony of scientifically engineered humanoids, each one possessing the child-like innocence and intellect of a 12-year-old. When not running from chimerical predators intent on eating you, you spend your time seeking shelter from damaging UV rays, oven-like mid-day temperatures and antibiotic-resistant infections.

This is setting for Margaret Atwood’s 2003 end of the world novel Oryx and Crake. A good friend of mine, an avid reader and huge fan of Atwood, loaned me her copy at a recent house party. Fortunately like most books people loan me, this one didn’t sit ignored on a shelf for months or years before I read it.  After starting it about a week after it was loaned to me, I quickly burned through it in what felt like no time. Based on my experience, if I read a book that quickly it usually means I enjoyed it. With Oryx and Crake, this would be no exception.

I enjoyed Atwood’s ability to tell an intriguing story using a direct style with accessible language. Although there’s a small cast of core characters, they feel developed and therefore hold my interest. Lastly, as the novel unfolds more is revealed of this sad future. And like some cosmic train wreck, the uglier things get the more you wanna watch.

Therefore on that cheery note, I liked it.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “About Time I Read It: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

  1. Cheery, indeed! I felt much the same way. Atwood is such a clear and descriptive writer, which I love. And the way the world builds in this one is great. It made me excited to read the next book in this world.

  2. I’ve been meaning to read Atwood for a while, she’s just one of those authors I’ve never gotten around to. But, this was a great review and it looks like a really interesting book – I’ll have to move her to the top of my TBR list.

  3. Hey Mark, Have you read anything else by Atwood? She is one of my FAVORITE authors and I couldn’t seem to get into this book, but maybe that’s because I don’t tend to like dystopian novels? Anyway, I loved Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, and The Blind Assassin. I actually wrote my thesis on Surfacing 🙂 She’s one of those authors that has an incredible amount of work and I want to read it all, but there is no way!

    • Wow, you wrote your thesis on Surfacing? That’s really cool! About two weeks ago one of my neighbors saw me sitting outside and reading Oryx and Crake. We talked a little bit about Atwood and he mentioned that he had read Surfacing.
      To answer your question, the only other Atwood novel I’ve read is The Handmaid’s Tale. The friend I mentioned in this post is a huge Atwood friend and I have a feeling before it’s all said and done she will be loaning me other works by Atwood. After reading this book’s sequel The Year of the Flood I’ll be ready for another one by her. Any suggestions??

      • Surfacing is an incredibly rich text, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the best plot. However, it is really short, so you could probably read it in a day or two. I personally loved The Robber Bride and Cat’s Eye, but they are about female deception and betrayal, so I don’t know if you’re into that kind of thing. The Edible Woman is pretty interesting too. It’s also one of her earliest novels (if not her first). The Handmaid’s Tale is a good one, but you’ve read it. I listened to The Year of The Flood on audio when it came out and enjoyed it, but I didn’t realize it was a sequel!! Dystopia. She’s obsessed with it! Btw if you like dystopia you should read Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall. It’s amazing! This is super long…so signing off 🙂

      • Wow, thanks for the suggestions! Someday I might give The Robber Bride a try. A few years ago I read a favorable review of it and it made me want to read it.
        I will check out Daughters of the North. Sometimes dystopic novels can be a lot of fun.
        Once again, thanks for your suggestions!!

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