Posts Tagged ‘margaret atwood’
Readers, I’m a slacker and have several drafts of reviews that have been in draft form for quite some time. So I’m going to post a few of them together and start with only the mostly completed books to review individually.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. I started reading this book and realized I perhaps should have reread Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood is the prequel to Atwood’s previous novel, and I was having a bit of trouble remembering just what had and had not been explained in it. But as I’m short on patience, I didn’t want to take the time to do so, and I persevered. At some point, I’ll reread them both close together, and I think that I’ll get more out of them both, but I still really appreciated Year of the Flood even with this gap of memory. It takes time to flesh out, but is well worth it, and as always, Atwood’s writing is captivating. I didn’t get around to reviewing it because I found it nearly impossible to sum up the plot or my emotions to it. Suffice to say, Atwood stirred quite a bit of thought for me.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. I read the first essay in this book in my friend’s guest room in September of 2009, and the story of her collection of My Little Pony horses from various suitors stayed with me. Eventually, I had to track down my own copy of this book because I wanted more of Sloane Crosley’s witty, self-deprecating essays that I could almost identify with (sometimes more so than others), and after reading it through, there was only one essay I really didn’t like. Apparently Sloane Crosley is a big deal because of her publicist day job for Joan Didion among others (whom I’m also reading now), but I didn’t realize this at the time. As such, people resent her shortcuts in much the same way people resent Jonathan Safran Foer for being discovered by Joyce Carol Oates. C’est la vie. I’m bitter because I don’t have fancy friends too, but if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t blink before agreeing to have my work published, with the thought being if it is any good, it will stand on its own. And so I Was Told There’d Be Cake does. I’ve put my copy in my guest room now, and I’m excited for Crosley’s new book of essays on traveling, How Did You Get This Number, which will be released in just a few weeks. Perfect vacation reading.
When I was younger and stupider, I eschewed all science-fiction as being for “geeks.” Oh, self. Why did you ever think you were above being a geek? You had no friends and enjoyed crossword puzzles from the age of ten, for the love of G-d. I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, and for me it was sci-fi. Oh no, I was better than those geeks.
Now that I’m older and less likely to get shoved into a band locker, I’m really reveling in some good sci-fi – not the stuff with wizards and dragons, that is still too geeky for me – but more the stuff that I think is called “spec fic” among the kids these days. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite writers in this genre, though I got into her via her more realist novels – specifically Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride. I really hated A Handmaid’s Tale when I read it back in high school – perhaps I should give it another pass now that I’m better in touch with my inner geek. (And yet, I loved loved loved 1984 when I read it for the first time at age 13. I think it’s because it had sex in it.)
Oryx and Crake deals with a human-created apocalypse in which the surviving species aren’t man… but are rather man-made. The protagonist, the Last Man on Earth, is Snowman – best friend of Crake, the scientist in charge of making the man-like species “The Crakers” who are shaping up to fill the human niche in a post-human world. The story is told Lost style, one linear story punctuated by flashbacks – which are in this case, thankfully, also linear. So, while you’re reading the story of Snowman’s struggle to survive (which if I’m calculating correctly, takes place over one week), you’re also reading the story of Snowman’s life from ages nine onwards. It flows together seamlessly, which is a testament to Atwood’s writing abilities.
There’s not too much I can say about the book that wouldn’t be a spoiler. The book is very obviously designed as the first chapter in a larger story, and I’m excited to read The Year of the Flood soon to see where this is going. Atwood very deftly tackles a lot of issues surrounding synthetic biology in a way that to me, as a layperson, makes the whole thing feel chillingly plausible. There’s a sign of some true postapocalyptic terror right there – imagining a scenario in which humans really do breed pigoons and wolvogs. While the names of the institutions involved are slightly hilarious (AnooYoo, for one), they aren’t at all hard to imagine springing up out of the ashes of current pharmaceutical research companies. We’re already shooting botulism into our faces and growing ears on mice, why not have pigs raised for organ harvesting and potential full-on skin replacements?
(Really terrifying though: the ChickieNobs. Gives me the howling fantods just thinking about it.)
The only reason that I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads is that it was indeed possible to put it down for periods of time. That was the only way I could see it as being in any way deficient – normally it doesn’t take me over a week to read a book of this length, but for some reason, it just dragged out a bit. We’ll see how The Year of the Flood shapes up after I finish my to-read pile, which is itself entirely spec-fic. I sense that 2010 is going to be The Year of The Geek.
I’m a big Margaret Atwood fan; I’ve counted The Robber Bride among my favorite books for quite some time. I also quite enjoyed Cat’s Eye, but not The Handmaid’s Tale, though I’m thinking I should give it a second chance. Kat’s been nudging me for some time to read The Blind Assassin, so I picked it up from the library. Though really, she’s got a copy to mail to me and I should have waited for it since you can not furiously underline and add marginalia to library books; I had to write down all of the passages that resonated with me and relevant comments in my journal, which meant that I was writing down about half the book. So, reading this took a lot longer than it usually takes me to devour a book even though I had some serious “Staying up too late because I can’t put book down” issues.
Atwood’s prose is nothing short of astounding and the novel and the novel-within-the-novel are woven together seamlessly. My only complaint is that the character Winifred’s malicious doings are hinted at extensively, but few concrete examples are given. The book is written “for” the protagonist (Iris)’s grand-daughter and mentions are made of what her grand-daughter “must think of [her]” given what Winifred has doubtlessly told her… so… what has Winifred told her, exactly? I would have liked more details in this area as the whole thing was extremely hazy. Winifred is invoked over and over again, but nothing substantial ever comes of it.
The big reveal at the end though, was totally stunning. I saw it coming for a while, but the way it was pulled off was flawless. Not many authors can handle a “twist” that well, and Atwood really knew her audience well enough to know how to lead us forward gently, little bits at a time, before showing us the cliff that we were about to dive off of (so to speak). Amazing stuff.
Now I want to read more Atwood, which I will doubtlessly do soon. The Infinite Summer project kicks off soon, but at a pace of a mere 75 pages per week, I should be able to gnaw on some other books on the side. And/or finish early and spend the rest of the summer reading other things. We’ll see.