Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and CrakeAs I read and enjoyed ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Blind Assassin’ and ‘Cat’s Eye’ before I started writing this blog, I thought it was high time I read more of Margaret Atwood’s work. ‘Oryx and Crake’ is the first book in Atwood’s critically acclaimed  dystopian MaddAddam trilogy of novels and tells the story of Snowman – also known as Jimmy – who is believed to be the only human survivor left in a post-apocalyptic world along with genetically modified creatures called Crakers. As Snowman makes a journey back to the place where the destruction occurred which wiped out the human population, we learn through flashbacks how the world came to be almost destroyed and what happened to his friend Crake and the mysterious Oryx.

Atwood explains that ‘Oryx and Crake’ is a work of speculative fiction rather than science fiction: “Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake… contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. As with The Handmaid’s Tale, it invents nothing we haven’t already invented or started to invent.” The novel covers a wide selection of themes, ideas and possible scenarios involving ecological disasters, global pandemics and the power of the Internet. Set towards the end of the twenty-first century, it is a reasonably distant future yet close enough for the possible bleak consequences to be very concerning for the present generation.

As with all of the best speculative fiction, it is the plausibility of Atwood’s imagined world which is the most terrifying aspect of the novel. Crucially, Atwood is an author who doesn’t just research scientific ideas but actually understands them and conveys them knowledgeably and accessibly in a way which few writers are capable of. Consequently, I always feel that I’m in safe hands when reading one of her novels which are always intelligently written with engaging characters and powerful messages.

The ending is particularly vague and abrupt with a number of loose ends left hanging. Even without the knowledge that ‘Oryx and Crake’ is the first book in a trilogy, I think it would be clear that the ideas and characters presented could be explored much further. I will certainly be reading the novels which conclude the trilogy, ‘The Year of the Flood’ and ‘MaddAddam’ and I would also like to read ‘Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing’ as I’m always intrigued by how authors perceive their craft, especially those as imaginative as Atwood.

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23 Comments

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23 responses to “Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

  1. Thanks for this – a really interesting post. I enjoyed The Blind Assassin and have long intended to read more Margaret Atwood. This has reminded me how good she is!

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  2. The first paragraph of the opening story in Ms. Atwood’s recent short story collection “Stone Mattress” demonstrates what a gifted writer she is. Beautiful use of language.

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  3. This exactly reflects how I felt about this book – one I caught up with only very recently whilst on holiday. Bleakness aside this was a fabulous holiday book – totally engrossing and thought provoking. It makes me so so excited that I still have the other two to devour.

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  4. What a coincidence! I was just thinking that I desperately need more Atwood. I had read The Handmaid’s Tale several years ago and loved it -one of my favorite books. I don’t understand why it didn’t rush me to buy more Atwood. Only recently I am reminded by how much I want to read her other works.

    Everyone I know sings praises for Oryx and Crake. It makes my resolution to continue with either Alias Grace or The Blind Assassin waver. Was The Blind Assassin as good as Oryx and Crake, may I ask?

    Oh, and I didn’t know that Atwood had a memoir about her craft. I’ll be on the lookout for that too. Like you, I am very interested in how writers see and approach writing.

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  5. Loved this book when I read it a few years ago: I wasn’t as impressed by the sequel, and haven’t gotten around to the third yet, but this is probably my all-time favourite Atwood, (along with a short pamphlet created from a speech she gave called ‘Payback’ on the history and culture of money and debt).

    The memoir sounds fascinating, haven’t read that one yet! Love books abou writers and their craft, almost as much as books featuring writers’ libraries!!

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  6. Really great review! I have to read this trilogy for a course at uni. Will be my first experience reading Margaret Atwood (I know shame on me…) and I’m really excited to get into it!

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  7. Col

    I read and absolutely loved Blind Assassin and The Handmaids Tale several years ago – yet since then I’ve been reluctant to try anything else of her books. I’ve no idea why really! Your post makes me realise what I’ve been missing! This sounds really good so will get over my Atwood mental block now!

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  8. Lovely review! I, however, didn’t get on with it so well. I adore Atwood’s writing in general – Oryx and Crake being no exception – but here I just wasn’t compelled by the premise. Although I did read it during final year for my degree so it’s very possible that skewed my opinion!

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  9. This has been on my TBR for the longest and I’ve just never gotten around to it. I love Atwood but her books are heavy and I need to be in the right frame of mind for her work.

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  10. The Rebeccery

    Great post! Have you read any of Atwood’s poetry? I highly recommend her poem “This Is a Photograph of Me,” I find that a lot of the themes that appear in her novels, such as death in nature and conflation of humans and landscape, appear in the poem and kind of form an overall summary of her work! Check out my blog http://www.wetrytoohard.com!

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  11. Nice review; concise and interesting. I’m currently studying Atwood in my final year at University and she’s just bloody excellent. The scope of her novels is just quite incredible. Have you read Alias Grace? That’s really excellent – possibly 2nd behind The Blind Assassin.

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  12. Pingback: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood | A Little Blog of Books

  13. I was afraid that there would be the loose ends at the end that you mention. I guess it is to be expected with a book like this that is a part of a trilogy. I just hope that I feel like I get a complete story in at least some aspects. Thanks for your review.

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