Cecily's book reviews

In general I've written reviews of every book I've read since I joined GoodReads (RIP) in May 08, along with one or two I read prior to that. More recent reviews tend to be longer (sometimes a tad too long?). I always carry a book, though I don't get as much time as I'd like to get engrossed - life is busy, but in a good way. Too many of my favourite authors died without writing enough! Apart from reading, and writing about reading, I enjoy Scrabble, good restaurants, woodland, and attending the theatre.

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood Futuristic, bad new world in the wake of an unspecified environmental/ genetic engineering disaster, told from the viewpoint of a nostalgic but detached survivor. It is as much about personal relationships, sexual exploitation, sexual freedom, religion, creation and original sin as it is cyber-punk sci-fi. The central, though unoriginal, irony is that this dystopia was created from a failed Utopian plan.

O&C is parallel with "The Year of the Flood" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/227625117), with several characters in common, and both end with the same scene, though approached from a different angle.

However, the format and style of this novel is entirely different: this alternates between Jimmy's childhood, told in the past tense, and his current situation (when known as Snowman) - passages which are angrier and more adult in tone, and told in the present tense. When tense and name switch in consecutive sentences, it can be disconcerting.

Jimmy is a materially privileged but emotionally deprived and manipulative child ("He loved her [his mother] so much when he made her unhappy, or else when she made him unhappy"), whose most important adult friendships are equally unbalanced and unhealthy. Telling the story from his perspective, but in the third person, emphasises his hurt, resentment and detachment ("Then they could thick off that item on the Terrific Parenting checklist they both carried about inside their heads").

There is much pain, evil and fear in this story: tales of sexual exploitation of children are the worst, and exacerbated when, as an adult, a victim insists it was not a big deal because learning to read and write "was a good trade[-off]" - yet Atwood is usually portrayed as a feminist author. I can't square that circle, and this aspect would make me a little cautious about who I recommend it to.

There is balance from humour - mainly in the ingenious ways Snowman, as a de facto priest (though really more of an ancestor) struggling to survive, invents rules from Crake (a deity, who was himself "against the notion of God, or of gods of any kind"), and an associated belief system. When this overlaps with Snowman's passion for words, things get a little liturgical.

The love of language starts in childhood, when Jimmy had collected old words, "He developed a strangely tender feeling towards such words, as if they were children abandoned in the woods and it was his duty to rescue them." A foreshadowing of a future when Snowman finds comfort in words, relishing the diverse names of "oil paints and high-class women's underwear" and exhorting himself to "Hang on to the words... When they're gone out of his head... they'll be gone, everywhere, for ever. As if they had never existed." What a responsibility.

The inevitability of religion is suggested, though perhaps more for the benefit of those in power than those who are meant to believe. Even when starting anew, there is a vacuum to fill. When Snowman first slipped into this role, he began "to find this conversation of interest, like a game. These people were blank pages, he could write whatever he wanted on them". He learns the importance of internal consistency, though I think that's a lesson some religions have yet to learn.

More strangely, "If you take 'mortality' as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then 'immortality' is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal."

Unlike many of her stories, the female character, although crucial and with a typically Atwoodesque troubled background, is not the main protagonist, or at least not in the literal sense. Her attitude to her own life is what I struggle with.

Overall, a complex, troubling and funny story.

Powerful quote:
"The air is thick, as if panic has condensed in here and hasn't yet had time to dissipate."

Disconcerting image:
"He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there's the future. Sheer vertigo."

Sobering final thought:
"All it takes... is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything... and it's game over for ever." "All the available surface metals have already been mined... without which, no iron age, no bronze age... it's not like the wheel, it's too complex now."

Finally, Snowman reminds me a little of Leon Trout, the narrator of Vonnegut's "Galapagos", so you might want to look at that (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/57091859), though it's rather funnier than O&C.

Currently reading

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy
Sebastian Peake, China MiƩville, Mervyn Peake
Mervyn Peake