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Book Review: The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

A bowl of fruit on a black background. A purple stripe across the bottom contains the book's title written in white.Summary:
It’s the 1960s in Canada, and Marian McAlpin is working writing and analyzing surveys for a marketing research firm.  She has a feminist roommate she doesn’t quite understand, and hangs out with the three office virgins for lunch.  Her boyfriend is comfortable and familiar. When he proposes to her, the office virgins think she’s hit the jackpot, her roommate questions why she’s following the norm, and her married and very pregnant friend seems hesitant about her fiancee.  None of this really bothers Marian, though.  What does bother her is that, ever since her engagement, there are more and more things she simply can’t eat.  First meat then eggs then even vegetables! She thinks of herself causing them suffering, and she just can’t stomach them.  What will happen to her if there’s eventually nothing left for her to eat?

Review:
I’m a fan of a few Margaret Atwood books, and the concept of this book intrigued me.  Since I run the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, I was also wondering if this might actually be a new take on anorexia.  Unfortunately, Marian is not really anorexic, it’s more of an elaborate, overdone metaphor.  Perhaps the plot is simply dated, but the interesting concept, when fleshed-out, comes out rather ho-hum.

The novel is divided into three parts, with Marian using first-person narration for the first and third parts, with third person narration taking over for the second.  This is meant to demonstrate how Marian is losing herself and not feeling her own identity.  It’s an interesting writing device, and one of the things I enjoyed more in the book.  It certainly is jarring to suddenly go from first to third person when talking about the main character, and it sets the tone quite well.

It’s impossible to read this book and not feel the 1960s in it.  Marian is in a culture where women work but only until marriage, where women attending college is still seen as a waste by some, and where there is a small counter-cultural movement that seems odd to the mainstream characters and feels a bit like a caricature to the modern reader.  However, the fact that Marian feels so trapped in her engagement, which could certainly still be the case in the 1960s, doesn’t ring as true, given the people surrounding Marian.  Her roommate is counter-cultural, her three office friends claim to want a man but clearly aren’t afraid of aging alone and won’t settle.  Her married friend shares household and child rearing with her husband, at least 50/50.  It’s hard to empathize with Marian, when it seems that her trap is all of her own making in her own mind.  She kind of careens around like aimless, violent, driftwood, refusing to take any agency for herself, her situation, or how she lets her fiancee treat her.  It’s all puzzling and difficult to relate to.

The Marian-cannot-eat-plot is definitely not developed as anorexia.  Marian at first stops eating certain meats because she empathizes with the animals the meat came from.  As a vegetarian, I had trouble seeing this as a real problem and fully understood where Marian was coming from.  Eventually, she starts to perceive herself as causing pain when eating a dead plant, bread, etc… The book presents both empathizing with animals and plants as equally pathologic, which is certainly not true.  Marian’s affliction actually reminded me a bit of orthorexia nervosa (becoming unhealthily obsessed with healthy eating, source) but the book itself presents eliminating any food from your diet as pathologic.  Either Marian eats like everyone else or she is going off the deep-end.  There is no moderate in-between.

What the Marian-cannot-eat-plot is actually used for is as a metaphor for how Marian’s fiancee (or her relationship with him) is supposedly consuming her.  The more entwined with her fiancee she becomes in society’s eyes, the closer the wedding comes, the less Marian is able to consume, because she herself is being consumed.  This would be quite eloquent if Marian’s fiancee or her relationship with him was actually harmful or consuming, but it certainly does not come across that way in what we see of it in the book.

Marian presents herself to her boyfriend then fiancee as a mainstream person, and he treats her that way.  He does one thing that’s kind of off-the-rocker (crashes his car into a hedge) but so does she on the same night (runs away in the middle of dinner, across people’s backyards, for no apparent reason and hides under a bed while having drinks with three other people at a friend’s house).  The only thing that he does that could possibly be read as a bit cruel is when she dresses up for a party he states that he wishes she would dress that way more often.  It’s not a partner’s place to tell the other how they should dress, but it’s also ok to express when you like something your partner is wearing.  Personally I thought the fiancee really meant the latter but just struggled with appropriately expressing it, and Marian herself never expresses any wants or desires directly to him on how they interact, what they wear, what they eat, how they decorate, etc…, so how could he possibly know?  In addition to never expressing herself to her fiancee, Marian also cheats on him, so how exactly the fiancee ends up the one being demonized in the conclusion of the book is a bit beyond me.  He’s bad because he wanted to marry her? Okay…… The whole thing reads as a bit heavy-handed second-wave feminism to me, honestly.  Marriage seems to be presented in the book as something that consumes women, no matter if they choose it or are forced into it by society.  It is not presented as a valid choice if a woman is able, within her society and culture, to make her own choices.

In spite of these plot and character issues, the book is still an engaging read with an interesting writing style.  I was caught up in the story, even if I didn’t really like the ideas within it.

Overall, this is a well-written book with some interesting narrative voice choices that did not age well.  It is definitely a work of the 1960s with some second-wave feminism ideas that might not sit well with modern readers.  Recommended to those interested in in a literary take on second-wave feminism’s perception of marriage.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Series Review: The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

December 21, 2013 2 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Woman's body mirror imaged.Summary:
In the not-too-distant future, the heavily populated world is run by corporations instead of governments. The corps keep their workers and people in Compounds where they’ll be safe from the rampant crime in the rest of the world. Supposedly.  Those who can’t get jobs at a corp must live in the pleeblands, essentially ghettoes.  The pleeblands are haunted by painballers–people who fought their way out of prison in a gladiator-style competition and who are usually now addicted to drugs.

The world isn’t entirely humans and corps, though. There are also a whole slew of new GMO plants and animals, such as rakunks and pigoons.  Children can buy bracelets with live fish inside them as wearable pets.

Jimmy works in a corp with Crake.  Crake is a genius who the corp allows to create basically whatever he wants.  They share a love interest in Oryx, who works with them, caring for the creations Crake makes.  Toby lives in the pleeblands, working in fast food restaurants.  She is being pursued by a violent stalker, who she is sure will kill her one day.  Then she discovers God’s Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that lives on the rooftops of the city gardening, learning all the species of the planet, and preparing for the impending End Times.  And the End Times come in the form of a virus released by Crake to destroy humanity and make room for the new breed of humans he has created in his lab–Crakers.  Crakers are herbivorous, polyamorous, and turn blue when they are in heat.  The pandemic wipes out almost everyone, but not quite.  Jimmy is left to care for the Crakers, and Toby survives, reminiscing about how her life has gone.  And there are some that Crake gave an immunity drug to.  They gather together and attempt to survive, guide the Crakers, and ponder on how things turned out this way.

covertheyearofthefloodReview:
The future world Atwood creates in this series is inventive and engrossing.  Unfortunately, many of the characters and some of the plot fail to fully engage the reader.

The future world, prior to the virus outbreak that destroys most human life, is incredibly imaginative and simultaneously realistic.  It is by far the strength of the series.  Atwood takes real modern day science and intelligently extrapolates how that combined with our evolving culture would affect life on Earth.  The change from politicians and nations controlling the world to corporations doing so makes excellent sense.  The types of animals those corps create are also logical both within that context and from a scientific perspective.  For instance, the mo’hairs are sheep who have had their genetics modified so that their wool is instead human hair to makes wigs out of.  How the world works makes sense and is slightly frightening at the same time.  It’s a subtle dystopia.

The post-apocalyptic setting is slightly less creative.  Only a few humans survive and quickly leave the cities to live in the countryside.  Conveniently, at least half of the group of survivors are from the vegetarian cult, God’s Gardeners, who predicted the end times, and so are well prepared for living in the wild.  This setting is much staler compared to the pre-apocalypse dystopia.  It feels as if the characters are just sitting in a clearing in the woods chatting at each other.  This would not be a problem if the characters were rich enough to sustain the plot when the creative world has disappeared.  But most of them are not.

Atwood is known for writing richly imagined female characters in scifi settings.  Unfortunately, this series is dominated by men, with the women mostly relegated to secondary roles, with the exception of Toby.  Toby starts out strong, and the book focusing on her story (The Year of the Flood) is the strongest of the series as well.  But in the post-apocalyptic setting, Toby loses all of her vim and three-dimensionality.  She becomes a woman obsessed with a man and pining for things she can’t have.  The male characters who dominate the story lack anything compelling.  Crake reads precisely as a slightly creepy genius.  Jimmy is difficult to get to know since he spends most of the series narrating when he is out of his mind from the effects of the apocalypse.  And Zeb reads as a muscled thug who comes to his senses when it best suits him.  None of these male characters show real breadth or true humanity.  They could have carried the story well, although I would still have missed the strong female presence Atwood brings to scifi.  However, these men seem more like caricatures of types of men we meet throughout our lives.

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest. The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.The plot is clearly meant to show us how the world could be destroyed and also how new life begins, complete with religious mythology.  Some of the plot twists that go with this core of the plot work and others don’t.  For the world destroying, the plot approaches it in two ways.  There’s telling how the world ends from an outsider, underprivileged perspective of a woman who happens to survive.  This aspect of the plot had enough twists and differences, such as Toby’s involvement in the God’s Gardeners cult, that it maintained interest.  The plot also tells how the world ends from the perspective of a man caught in a hopeless hetero love triangle with a kind woman and an evil genius.  This common trope takes no different plot twists or turns.  It is entirely predictable and dull.  A bit of a flop.  The twists in the final third of the story, how the world begins and the last of the prior world fades out with a murmur, does nothing truly daring.  Toby’s romance ends essentially as expected.  Loose ends are tied up.  And the Crakers take over with a new mythology given to them by a flawed human being.  I’m sure this is meant to say something radical, and maybe someday to someone it will, but to the reader who has already read many thinly veiled take-downs of religion and where it comes from in scifi, it was rather ho-hum and long-winded.  Particularly when compared to the much shorter and more richly written work by Atwood taking a similar anti-religion stance: The Handmaid’s Tale.

Overall, this is a series with two-thirds of the plot set in a richly imagined and intelligently extrapolated subtle dystopia future.  The basic plot of dystopia to apocalypse to post-apocalypse is told slightly non-linearally with some interesting poetic-style writing inserted in-between chapters.  Most of the characters feel flat against the rich backdrop, although one female character at first stands out then slowly fades.  Recommended to readers interested in a realistic near future dystopia who don’t mind a rather typical plot and two-dimensional characters will enjoy most of the series, although they may enjoy the first two books more than the third.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, and Audible

Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review, 3 stars
The Year of the Flood, review, 4 stars
MaddAddam, review, 3 stars

Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond)

December 11, 2013 3 comments

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest.  The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.Summary:
The world has been mostly wiped out by a virus released by Crake, who thinks he’s helping save the earth with a cleansing flood.  The survivors who are left are some of the scientists who worked with him, some people who were following a crunchy granola earth-centric cult known as God’s Gardeners, and Painballers–dangerous drug addicts who survived a gladiator-style fighting ring.  There’s also the Crakers.  Genetically engineered by Crake and the scientists, they’re a new version of humans who are herbivorous and naturally poly.  They also are only attracted to sex when the women are in heat and visibly blue, thus preventing sexual violence amongst themselves.  The God’s Gardeners, scientists, and Crakers comes together to try to survive in this world and defend themselves from the painballers.  Toby, a God’s Gardener, ends up leading and educating the Crakers.  She also rediscovers Zeb, the God’s Gardener leader’s brother who she previously had a crush on.  Zeb tells her the story of how his brother, Adam, came to be mad.

Review:
I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a set of two companion novels, not a trilogy.  So when this book was released, I was surprised and excited.  The prior two books left the reader hanging, not knowing what really happened after the flood, and I was eager to find out what did happen.  I wish this book had lived up to the creativity and excitement of the second one, The Year of the Flood.

At first it appears the sole narrator of the book will be Toby, the woman from The Year of the Flood who flees to God’s Gardeners to escape her dangerous stalker and slowly grows in strength.  Slowly, though, she begins to share narration with Zeb, who tells her his and Adam’s background stories.  Interspersed in this is Toby’s evening bedtime stories to the Crakers, who insist upon this and treat it with respect and ritual.  Eventually, one of the Crakers tells some of the evening stories.  The format isn’t bad, although it’s odd that when Zeb is telling his story to Toby, she’s talking about him telling the story to her in the third person.  So the book will say “Zeb remembered” or “Zeb thought,” instead of just having Zeb take over the narration of the story.  It felt especially odd since the audiobook had the narrator change from the female voice of Toby to the male voice of Zeb who proceeded to refer to himself in the third person.  Similarly, although the bedtime stories to the Crakers were well-written, easily elucidating a bedtime story and letting the reader imagine the questions and comments from the Crakers that we don’t actually hear, a lot of the stories didn’t feel as if they added much to the book.  They felt a bit like page-fillers.  I get it that Atwood is trying to show where religion comes from (blind trust in a fallible person), but it felt a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary to me.

Toby’s character progression from a strong, creative, firecracker of a woman to someone who second-guesses herself, bemoans her inability to properly defend people, and moons after a man obsessively was rather jarring and disappointing.  I’m all for Toby having a love life, and I think her having one as an older woman is something we don’t see enough in literature.  But I don’t feel like her excessive pining and worrying over it was totally within character.  Similarly, she seems to lose all ability to trust in herself and her capability in defending herself and others in bizarre situations.  The one thing that did feel within her character was her taking the Crakers under her wing.  These flaws in the characterization of Toby are kind of a big deal since she’s the only female narrator out of three narrators, and since she was such an amazing main character in The Year of the Flood.  She deserves to have more of the story and more presence of personality than she gets.

That said, Zeb’s backstory is interesting and lends a lot of light to some of the mysteries from the previous two books.  In some ways they were the best parts of the book, since we get to revisit the incredible pre-flood world Atwood created.

In comparison, the post-flood world is dull and lacks creativity.  It’s essentially a bunch of survivors living in a jungle with some genetically engineered humans.  The only extra or special thing added into this basic formula is the Crakers, and they are not that engaging or interesting.  They’re mostly just a little creepy and off-putting.

The main conflict of the plot is rather predictable, although the ending is a bit of a surprise.  The end of Toby’s story moved me the most, and that’s not a surprise since she is by far my favorite character in the series.  The end of the book makes it clear that this is really more about the Crakers and the basis of their society, which I think explains my lukewarm feelings about the book.

The audiobook narrators all did a lovely job emoting the various characters they played.  The choice of having a male narrator speak for Zeb’s story even though Zeb isn’t actually speaking was a bit odd, though.

Overall, those who enjoyed The Year of the Flood the most of the first two books will be a bit disappointed in Toby’s characterization and probably find the post-flood world a bit dull, although they will still enjoy seeing the end of Toby’s story.  Those who preferred Oryx and Crake and have a liking of or interest in the Crakers will likely enjoy this finale to the series the most.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review
The Year of the Flood, review

Friday Fun! (Six Books/Six Months Meme and Blog Tour Updates)

July 20, 2012 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

This week I saw a new meme over on Jessica’s blog, The Bookworm Chronicles, and I immediately knew I’d want to participate.  And what better place than in Friday Fun, eh?  The Book Jotter created it after realizing we’re actually halfway through the year already (already!), so the theme is answers to the questions/categories in sixes.

Six New Authors to Me:

  1. S. A. Archer
  2. Kat Falls
  3. Steve Vernon
  4. David Anthony Durham
  5. Brandon Shire
  6. Susan Mallery

Six Authors I Have Read Before

  1. Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Robert Kirkman
  3. Joseph Robert Lewis
  4. Anne Rice
  5. Margaret Atwood
  6. Ann Brashares

Six Authors I Am Looking Forward To Reading More Of:

  1. Tera W. Hunter
  2. Joann Sfar
  3. Richelle Mead
  4. M. J. Rose
  5. Isaac Marion
  6. Roger Thurow

Six Books I Have Enjoyed the Most:

  1. To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War by Tera W. Hunter (review)
  2. Dark Life by Kat Falls (review)
  3. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (review)
  4. Acacia by David Anthony Durham (review)
  5. Vegan Vittles by Jo Stepaniak (review)
  6. The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow (review)

Six Books I Was Disappointed With:

  1. The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice (review)
  2. Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods by Renee Loux Underkoffler (review)
  3. Nano House: Innovations for Small Dwellings by Phyllis Richardson (review)
  4. The Child Who by Simon Lelic (review)
  5. To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron (review)
  6. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (review)

Six Series of Books Read or Started:

  1. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Touched by S. A. Archer
  3. Dark Life by Kat Falls
  4. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  5. Georgina Kincaid by Richelle Mead
  6. The Reincarnationist by M. J. Rose

Phew! That was actually pretty tough to assemble. Super fun though! It’s always interesting to see your reading over a period of time summed up in different types of lists.

Now, it’s time for the Waiting For Daybreak blog tour updates (blog tour page)!  This was the first full week of the tour, and it’s really been quite fun so far.

Earth’s Book Nook hosted a guest post in which I talk about why I made “What is normal?” the theme of the novel and tour.  She is also hosting a giveaway!

The Chronicles of an Enamored Soul posted her review, and she said, “The reason it gets FIVE STARS, is because I simply loved how well-realized, and well-developed author McNeil’s characters were, ESPECIALLY Frieda. Amanda writes about mental illness with sensitivity, and yet never fails to make it interesting.”

Tabula Rasa‘s review said, “The book is, on the one hand packed with thrill and action, and on the other, has a very emotional and thought-provoking side. What I really appreciated was how none of it is overdone; I specially liked the subtlety of the relationship between Mike and Frieda.”

Tabula Rasa also hosted an interview!  Be sure to check that out to find out everything from whether plot or characters come first in my writing to what my next project is.

Nicki J Markus also interviewed me.  Check that out to find out what my favorite zombie book and zombie movie are.

Last but not least, Nicki J Markus is also hosting a giveaway.  Two chances to win this week!

Thanks once again to all the participating blogs!

Finally, happy weekends to all my lovely readers!  What did you think of the meme?  Any surprises or thoughts?

Book Review: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

March 26, 2012 5 comments

Line drawing of a woman.Summary:
Hopefully anyone who’s read The Odyssey remembers Odysseus’s long-suffering wife, Penelope, who waited years for his return from the Trojan War, all while raising their son and fending off suitors who were eating her out of house and home.  Here, Atwood turns the focus from Odysseus onto Penelope, who from the underworld of Hades tells us about her own life, interspersed with choruses by the 12 maids who were hung to death upon Odysseus’s return.

Review:
I’ve taken to loading an audiobook on my ipod for those frequent times when I either have to walk from a T stop or am crammed onto a train with literally no elbow-room to hold onto my kindle.  I was excited to see this on the shelf at my library, since I had decided rather spur of the moment to pick one up, and I do love Atwood.  Plus, this is only three discs long, which is good for my audiobook attention span.

For me the story ultimately fails, although I don’t blame Atwood for that.  The thing is, Penelope, to a modern woman, is kind of pathetic.  It’s not easy to make her into a heroine we can root for, the way we can root for Odysseus.  Ok, so he’s a womanizer and a liar, but he’s also brilliant and hilarious.  The kind of guy you want to be friends with, but don’t want to date.  Yet Penelope not only is married to him, but has never stood up to him.  Even when he’s been gone for years and years fighting in a war.  Atwood is a great writer, but that’s just not a situation you can fix.  I completely get Atwood’s fascination with Penelope’s story, not to mention the 12 maids.  I don’t think any woman can read The Odyssey and not wonder about it.  But it ultimately doesn’t hold up for a story.

Penelope comes across as a woman who lived in tough times to be a woman, yes, but who never does anything really to fight the status quo.  She can’t even bring herself to stand up to the elderly maid who takes the run of her household.  Plus, she willingly puts her maids into situations where they are likely to get raped (indeed, do get raped) and then doesn’t stand up for them when her wayward husband finally comes home.  Is it within character? Sure.  Is it something that holds up as the main focus of a story?  Nope.

I did enjoy Atwood’s modern take on the Greek chorus using the dead 12 maids.  I appreciate her choice to include a chorus in the book, as well as how she played with different ancient and modern music styles.  It even left me wishing the maids were the focus of the book instead of Penelope!  Of course, interspersing music between chapters is something I’ve seen Atwood do before in The Year of the Flood, and she’s very good at it.  It’s an Atwood style that works perfectly in this book.

So what does this all ultimately mean?  Atwood’s writing style is creative and pleasant as always, but the topic of the book just isn’t.  I think the constraints of who Penelope is from such an ancient story placed a sour note on Atwood’s work that normally isn’t there.  It’s an interesting exercise, but not one I found particularly enjoyable to read.  I was more interested in it as an academic exercise.  If you’re a fan of retellings of the classics, you’ll be intrigued by it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Imminent Arrivals and TBR #2

July 15, 2010 8 comments

The first time I did an Imminent Arrivals and TBR post it turned out to be surprisingly popular with you guys. Yay!  So I decided to continue doing them periodically.

Imminent Arrivals (books with the shortest estimated arrival from PaperBackSwap)

Paintbrush on woman's chest.Top of the queue is Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.  I honestly have no idea what this book is about, but Jane Kamensky was my advisor for my History major in university.  She mysteriously took a year’s sabbatical and only told us later it was to write this book.  She specializes in US History, particularly women’s roles and colonial New England.  I kind of heart her.  A lot.  She’s a brilliant woman and taught me so much.  How could I not read her book?

Woman in a red dress.Next is Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.  You guys know that I don’t normally do fantasy, but the concept of a woman convicted of murder being offered the choice between immediate death or being the food taster for the Commander of Ixia really struck me.  There’s a lot of room for interesting plot there from the methods and types of poisoning to free will to the original murder.  I’m curious and hopeful this will be a door into fantasy for me.  Or at least a window.

Woman standing in front of a city skyline.Third in line is Deadtown by Nancy Holzner.  It sounds largely like your typical paranormal plot-line (woman must keep people safe from monsters) but it’s set in Boston!  I mean I have to read anything set in Boston that isn’t about the Irish mob.  I get so sick of Boston equating Irish mob in people’s heads.  Anyway, it also appears to feature every type of paranormal creature you can imagine, so it should at least be entertaining.

TBR

Woman's blurry face.I’m trying to dig down to the books that have been in my TBR pile the longest.  First is S by John Updike.  After reading The Witches of Eastwick and enjoying it, I poked around to see what else Updike has written.  I have a weakness for epistolary novels, and this one is a bit unique in that it is set in the 1960s as opposed to the 1800s or some such.  The letters are also from a woman living on a religious commune.  It all sounds rather fascinating, but I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for what could be a slow-paced novel right now.

Woman wearing a glowing necklace.Also sitting on the TBR shelf for a while is Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.  It was recommended to me by a friend due to my love of Margaret Atwood.  I honestly didn’t even read the summary at the time, just bought it.  Allow me to go look at the blurb.  Ok.  It’s set in the future and is about a woman who is an empath–a person who is crippled by the pain of others.  Ohhh, this sounds really good!

Wires.Finally there’s Neuromancer by William Gibson, which was recommended to me by an IT geek friend of mine.  It’s about a computer cowboy who gets banished from cyberspace (I think it’s fairly obvious that this is set in the future).  Rumors of a movie keep circulating, so I do want to get on this relatively soon.  I just hope it won’t disappoint me the way Feed did (review).

There we have it!  Please tell me what you think, my lovely readers!

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Woman's body mirror imaged.Summary:
Snowman used to be Jimmy.  Jimmy was a word person in a science person world.  He couldn’t splice genes to make rakunks or even to make new types of plants.  He could sell them to the public who lived outside of the safe Compounds though.  Jimmy was with Oryx, although he had to share her with Crake.  Now, Snowman must take care of the Crakers with their rainbow of colors, naturally insect-repellant skin, and complex mating rituals.  Snowman is alone except for the Crakers.  Everyone else died in the bloody pandemic. Or did they?

Review:
This is a companion novel to Year of the Flood (review), although Oryx and Crake was published first.  Companion novel means they’re set in the same time-span in the same universe and some characters may briefly cross over, but you don’t necessarily need to read them in a particular order or even read all of them.

Atwood is one of my favorite authors, so I have no idea how to react to the fact that I didn’t like this book.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it.  It was a bit of a struggle to get through.  As usual, Atwood sets scenes beautifully, but I felt no emotion driving the story.  I believe Oryx and Crake suffers from the fact that love triangle of Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy is only hinted at throughout the book, only to be revealed in such a manner that it rings false.  Jimmy seems to surf through life on a wave of ennui, until Oryx shows up and cheers him up, but how does she do it?  We just don’t ever really find out, because our narrator is Snowman–the version of Jimmy who’s lost his mind.  Perhaps Atwood was trying to show a culture that had reached a point where people just couldn’t be truly happy.  That’s a good thing to show, but it makes for a boring narrator.

What I really wanted to know about was what made Crake do the things he did.  He’s clearly either a mad-man or a genius, but we never get to find out much about him at all.  I wish he had been the narrator.  To see inside his mind would have been amazing.  I could have even overlooked the fact that he’s not a woman.

That’s the other thing that bugged me about this book.  Atwood usually writes with female main characters, but in this instance, men were the main players.  That kind of pisses me off.  Was she unable to imagine a woman doing something so evil?  A woman being so stupid?  That’s just as sexist as women never being the hero.  I would have enjoyed the book so much more if Jimmy and Crake were women (heck, Oryx could have stayed a woman too.  That would have been an interesting change).

When you compare this to Year of the Flood, it’s evident that what Oryx and Crake lacks is the emotions driving the bigger picture.  It’s a well-imagined and creative big picture, which is what makes the book still readable.  I’m sure some people would like it, but don’t come into it expecting Atwood’s more typical emotion-driven story.  You won’t find it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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