Oryx and Crake


This is one book review where I’m not going to tell you very much about the book.

I dived into the book only knowing one thing – that it’s the first of a well-regarded dystopian trilogy by Margaret Atwood who is fast becoming one of my favorite writers.

The last book of this trilogy Maddaddam got published last year and revived a lot of blogger interest in this series. In my opinion though, diving into the book blind is the very best way to read this story.

So, here is the very brief blurb from the back of the book:

Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved.

In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.

I love this blurb primarily because how much it doesn’t say, and that’s how the book flows too. Atwood is brilliant at describing this world. She gives information in bits and pieces and I found myself guessing my way through a lot of the book. Now that may not sound like a good thing, but Atwood makes it work and how! I was mind-blown by the level of control that she had over the plot.

What didn’t blow me away were all the unanswered questions that I was left with at the end of the book.

See, I loved this book overall and it’s a fantastic example of a well-written dystopia (a genre I am not too fond of), but I really like a book to answer the questions it’s raising. Here, I was left with so many unanswered questions: Why did Crake do what he did? Why did Oryx follow him so unquestioningly? Why did she start an affair with Snowman?

I loved all the scientific sections of the book, but the human sections were pretty blah. The life that Snowman looks back with nostalgia – essentially a childhood of violent video games, and porn, and highly processed food left me cold. I actually felt that his present day isolation was a better life than his past.

Snowman as a protagonist is also not very impressive. He is merely a spectator/narrator of the events unfolding around him, it’s Oryx and Crake, and even many of the secondary characters who actually push the story forward (be warned: there’s not much of a story), but we never get to know enough about their personalities and motivations, making the character development pretty non-existent.

I am hoping the next two books in the series (and I do plan to read them) will answer all these open questions. I looked up the next book – The Year of the Flood on Wikipedia and it seems the narrators in the book are different.

That seems an unusual direction for a trilogy to take, but also welcome. I found Snowman’s worldview very limited and claustrophobic. He has spent all his life growing up in enclosed compounds (which uncomfortably remind me of our gated communities), and his sheltered life is not all that interesting to be honest. The Year of the Flood promises to be more interesting as it’s from the point of view of the pleebland folks (something like what we mean by plebeians, I am guessing).

Overall, I loved this book for the world-building and her outrageous imagination (no details but you just gotta read this book. Highly imaginative!), but I was a little disappointed by the blandness of the main characters.

You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon

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  • bellezza

    First, I’m glad you found me on WordPress (again). It’s hard to imagine I was there for 2009-2010, and have since returned from Blogger.

    Now for Atwood. I love her things from her early years: The Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, Surfacing. Her work which reflects a Sci-fi or futuristic bend appeals to me not at all. After reading Oryx and Crake, I haven’t read a thing she’s written. It was just too disappointing a book for me.

    • Nishita

      @bellezza:disqus I haven’t actually read many of her earlier works, I should try them. I started with The Blind Assassin which was so blah I actually stopped reading any of her books. But then I chanced upon The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved. Oryx and Crake is kind of an in-between novel for me, I neither loved it nor hated it, and found it hard to decide my stance on it when I know it’s the first of a trilogy.

  • Yes, @disqus_tMab62i78F:disqus’s right when she says that these work fantastically when read as a whole, though I love Oryx and Crake all on its own. I hope you really enjoy Year of the Flood it doesn’t have the same problems that you covered with O & C. …and while MaddAddam is the weakest of the three (in my opinion) it does very nicely in wrapping up the trilogy.

  • Is this book as yucky as people have implied to me many times over the years? I’ve never read it, largely because I’m afraid it’ll be too intense for squeamish me. But maybe that concern is overblown on my part.

  • Anna

    The books work GREAT as a trilogy, I think a lot of your questions will be answered. What I love about Margaret Atwood is that she’s so good at storytelling from different perspectives, using different mediums to communicate with the reader (the best example I can think of is how she uses newspaper stories in The Blind Assassin as entire chapters). I look forward to the review of the whole trilogy!

    • Nishita

      @disqus_tMab62i78F:disqus I wasn’t such a fan of The Blind Assassin, but everything else I’ve read from her has been top class. I definitely intend to read the other books in this series soon.

  • I almost always dive into books blind, and I’ve been thinking about reading this and avoiding spoilers for a long time! Now that the trilogy is complete, I really need to start the first book!

    • Nishita

      @baystateRA:disqus I recommend this one, highly. I think this is the way dystopia should be written. It’s brilliant just how much she has guessed the direction the world is going in. So many things in her dystopia are actually happening right now!

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