I first read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood about 10 years ago and recently reread it followed by the long-awaited sequel The Testaments. Atwood’s dystopian classic first published in 1985 depicts the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and patriarchal state created after the downfall of the United States some time in the 21st century. It is narrated by Offred, a handmaid who is forced to produce children for Commander Waterford and his wife Serena Joy.
As a reread, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was fresher in my mind than it would have been thanks to the recent television series which is a very faithful adaptation of the novel. I particularly admire Atwood’s skill at detailed world-building in relatively spare prose. Even though there isn’t a huge amount of description of what Offred’s surroundings look like or even much explanation about the creation of Gilead initially, Atwood paints a vivid and shocking portrait of this dystopian world, gradually building towards a dramatic conclusion. Continue reading
The final part of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy brings together the bioengineered Crakers from Oryx and Crake and the eco-religious cult known as God’s Gardeners from The Year of the Flood. Picking up from where both of these books end after the human race has been almost entirely wiped out by a man-made plague, Toby takes centre stage once again, leading the small community of survivors along with Zeb, a mysterious minor character from ‘The Year of the Flood’. Continue reading
One of the books which kept cropping up frequently in lots of end-of-year book lists last month was ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman and so it got bumped up my TBR list as one of my not-very-festive Christmas holiday reads. The main concept of Alderman’s fourth novel explores what would or could happen in a world where women become more powerful than men in every sense. Due to a mutation caused by a nerve agent used during the Second World War, teenage girls develop the ability to release electrical jolts through their fingertips which can be either harmless or strong enough to kill people. The “power” eventually spreads and although it is initially used by women as a deterrent against violent and abusive men who have oppressed them, it has far-reaching implications beyond that. Continue reading
I really enjoyed Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood a couple of years ago and have finally got round to reading the second book in her acclaimed MaddAddam trilogy ‘The Year of the Flood’. Set in the same universe as ‘Oryx and Crake’, ‘The Year of the Flood’ follows a lower class eco-religious cult known as the God’s Gardeners and their alternative perspective of the same apocalypse. Only two women from the community, Toby and Ren, survive the catastrophe which was predicted years earlier by the Gardeners who coined it the Waterless Flood. Continue reading
‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel is a post-apocalyptic novel which opens with the sudden death of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor starring in a theatre production of ‘King Lear’. He collapses on stage and succumbs to the Georgia Flu, a pandemic which virtually wipes out the human race in a matter of days. The survivors form the Travelling Symphony, a troupe of actors and musicians moving across territories performing classical theatre and concerts, including Kirsten, a child actress who was with Arthur when he died. Continue reading
As 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. Continue reading
Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ by Adam Johnson tells the story of Pak Jun Do’s journey from life in a North Korean state orphanage to professional kidnapper to a career in Pyongyang at the heart of Kim Jong-il’s regime. It is an intriguing and sprawling story which explores several aspects of life in one of the most secretive countries in the world. Continue reading
‘Under the Skin’ is a very difficult book to summarise without giving away too much of the plot. Essentially, it tells the story of Isserley, who drives around deserted areas of northern Scotland picking up well-built lone male hitchhikers. I really don’t want to tell you any more than that and if you’ve already read it, then you’ll understand why. If you haven’t, then you’ll have to forgive me for being so cryptic. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that the book is much more intriguing if you read it without any real clues about what will happen beyond the initial set-up. Continue reading
‘Blindness’ by José Saramago is a fable about an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness which has unsurprisingly chaotic consequences. The story begins with a man suddenly going blind as he is waiting in his car at some traffic lights. Several other characters who come into contact with him also lose their sight. The blind are quarantined in a mental asylum and left to fend for themselves but criminals soon gain control as society rapidly breaks down completely. Only the doctor’s wife is still able to see for unknown reasons but she doesn’t reveal this fact. Can she still help the others? Continue reading
I tried. I really did. But I just couldn’t finish ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. The whole concept/plot was just too damn weird.
I’m quite proud of the fact that there are very few books which I have never finished but this one definitely defeated me. ‘Cloud Atlas’ interweaves six different stories which include the 19th century Pacific journal of Adam Ewing, the letters of Robert Frobisher living in Belgium in the 1930s, a thriller set in the 1970s, a comic story about someone who gets trapped in a nursing home, a futuristic dystopian world… and this is the point where I gave up after nearly 200 pages. Each of the first five stories are interrupted half-way through and are then resolved in reverse chronological order (although I didn’t get far enough to read these conclusions). Continue reading
The premise of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles everywhere. Ray Bradbury’s portrayal of a dystopian society in which books are outlawed would be like hell for all book-lovers: as we are told on the first page, Fahrenheit 451 is “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns”. The book tells the story of a fireman called Guy Montag, except he is not the sort of fireman we would normally imagine – instead of putting fires out, firemen in Bradbury’s not too distant future deliberately start fires in places where books are found. From the moment when his seventeen year old neighbour Clarisse McClellan asks him if he is happy, Montag starts to question everything around him especially when Clarisse disappears and his wife, Mildred, attempts suicide. Continue reading
Disturbing, powerful and thought-provoking in equal measure, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess tells the story of Alex, a 15 year old anti-hero in a dystopian future who carries out theft, rape and murder before ending up in prison where he is put through an experiment in an attempt to cure him. Anyone who has tried to read my Kindle over my shoulder on the train to work this week will probably have regretted it. The book is pretty brutal. Continue reading
Today I whizzed through ‘Catching Fire’, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Uprisings against the Capitol have begun in several Districts and Katniss and Peeta compete in the Quarter Quell with previous victors for the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games. I found this installment of the series to be reasonably compelling but not completely satisfying.
In some ways, ‘Catching Fire’ is an improvement on the first installment of the Hunger Games trilogy. Right from the beginning, it seemed like a more confidently written book. Continue reading
I’m going to hog my sister’s Kindle for as long as I can get away with it – hopefully I will at least get to read the other two books in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins before she realises I still have it. Set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, the thirteen Districts of Panem must select one boy and one girl to fight in the televised Hunger Games until only one remains alive – sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are chosen to represent District 12. Like all the best YA fiction, ‘The Hunger Games’ is not just for teenagers.
Even though ‘The Hunger Games’ does have a relatively fast pace from the beginning, it did take me a while to get into the book. I’m not massively into science-fiction and I didn’t think there was anything particularly spectacular about Collins’s writing. Continue reading
‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley is one of the most famous dystopian novels of all time. I’m generally not a fan of science-fiction but this book is undeniably a classic. Set in London hundreds of years in the future in which humans are conditioned in a caste system of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, ‘Brave New World’ initially presents an ‘ideal’ World State to the reader. But below-average Alpha, Bernard Marx, believes there is something missing in this society where everybody is supposedly ‘happy’. The arrival of John ‘the Savage’ from outside the World State inevitably raises even more questions about just how ‘ideal’ this society really is. Continue reading