Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This was the first time I’d read and Margaret Atwood, and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew there was a little controversy about how she describes her work. Her books are marketed as literary fiction, but people (OK, one person that I know of – David Langford in Ansible Link – but I’m sure there are others) assert that she writes science fiction. She herself seems to want to distance herself from such a demeaning categorisation. Perhaps we should call it literary science fiction – that seems like a fair description.

I found the book to be a surprisingly pleasant and easy read. Which, I have a feeling, it’s not supposed to be – at least, not that pleasant and easy. It’s two stories, really, the story of ‘Snowman”s present and his past. As such it charts the world’s descent into catastrophe and its aftermath.

It felt like a familiar read – I seem to have read something (or somethings) similar in the past, but I can’t put my finger on what. It certainly reminded me of William Gibson, but his novels aren’t quite so post-apocalyptic. The writing has admirable clarity, peppered with a little dry (to the point of being strained) humour. It’s a fairly long novel, and can be a little tedious – but not too much: its readability makes up for that.

The world described – where genetic engineering rules and eventually causes the collapse of civilisation – is well-drawn. Perhaps a little too well-drawn, or at least too deliberately drawn. Suspension of disbelief comes into play – you can’t really enjoy a book, I think, unless you’re willing to take it on its own terms – but while the picture of rampant capitalism and scientific ingenuity certainly bears an amount of truth, it doesn’t really ring all that true. Snowman’s world is a literary creation, serving the purposes of the author. It’s all very logical, but a bit lifeless.

Snowman works reasonably well as a main character. He’s reflective and human, but passive. The end of the story involves the outcome of a rare act of initiative-taking by him, but is finally inconclusive. Which, given that this is literary fiction – and therefore only secondarily (or less) interested in plot – isn’t a surprise.

In the end, Oryx and Crake is an interesting and engaging read, and consistently well-executed, but it didn’t move me much.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
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