I’m beginning to think that Margaret Atwood has the gift of foresight. How else can you explain her knack for writing a dystopian novel that in reality, doesn’t seem quite unrealistic? First, it was “The Handmaid’s Tale” that was written in the 1980s and is as relevant today as before. Now, I finish “Oryx and Crake” and I can’t helping feeling the same thing.
In the open pages of Oryx and Crake the reader is introduced to Snowman, who is all alone, half dressed in a tattered sheet with bug bites and scabs. He is alone except for the children, who at first glance appear to be native children that can’t understand Snowman. You can’t help wonder if he is a foreigner or are they? However the answer is neither. For Snowman is the only human left on earth after a viral plague wipes out mankind. The children are not entirely human or human in the everyday sense of the word. Doesn’t sound so far off does it?
What is even more scary is how this plague comes to be. In true fashion, Atwood is no secret to reveal the answer too quickly. Through flashbacks, the reader goes back to pre-plague, to uncover the story that Snowman – or Jimmy as he referred to then – has to tell. Back to the days when you either lived in the Pleeblands (the world as we know it) or the compounds where things are orderly and safe. The compounds consist of scientists or workers for a scientific agency, which is focused on making everything in the world better, safer, healthier, last longer – through scientific modification.
What is scary is how close to reality this book comes. It’s almost as if Atwood took what she saw going on in the scientific community and then took it a few steps further by thinking of the worst possible scenario. I mean this book was written in the early 2000s and yet, they have things that are being introduced to society now. Plant-based meat was not a thing until a few years ago, but it is in this book. Then the virus? We know that there is a plague, as is given in the summary on the back cover, but how or why, is painfully revealed slowly. While the virus is different, what happens is eerily all too much reality at the moment. It almost makes you wonder whether some of the conspiracy theorists about COVID-19 are on to something.
I loved the false sense of security that Atwood sets up with all the characters and the relationships between them. For example Jimmy and Crake are best friends, and you know that since Jimmy is now alone that something happened to Crake, but what? Did Jimmy watch his friend die a brutal death or did they have a falling out before then?
Then there is the whole love story between Jimmy and Oryx, who meet in the most unexpected circumstances. Given their history, you wonder if they are going to actually be together. Then when just as your cheering for Jimmy to finally have found his person, the rug is pulled again.
For the duration of the reader is sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for the shoe to fall, waiting for when the big reveal will happen until it does in the most unexpected way. Then you just want to flip back to the beginning because you feel like you missed something. There had to be an Easter egg somewhere.
This is definitely a great read, but if the current happenings in the world are freaking you out, it may be better to wait a bit. I am not one to read series or trilogies but I must say that I am definitely intrigued about what happens in this dystopian world.