Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
First published: 2003
If I hadn’t had to read Oryx and Crake (the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy) by Margaret Atwood for one of my courses, I don’t think I’d ever have picked it up, but I’m glad I did! Parts of the book kind of frustrated me, but the ending and the discussions we had about it in class make me want to read the rest of the trilogy as well. It is an excellent dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel and kind of frightening because of its similarities to our own society.
The first thing I noticed when I started reading is that Atwood’s writing is exceptional. I haven’t read any of her other novels, so this was the first time I encountered her style. It also means I have no clue if she uses the same style throughout all of her work. Either way, Oryx and Crake is written in a no-nonsense, often brusque style and I think that really suited the story. I was rather surprised when I found out that the novel is often criticised because of its style, because it was one of the things I really quite liked about it.
The story had me captivated right from the start, as the one thing that kept going through my mind was “what the hell happened here?”. Snowman is living in an absolute wasteland and all we get to see for the longest time is either his slow descent into madness or flashbacks to when life was still “good” and there were still people around.
More and more gets revealed as the story progresses, and while I liked the slow reveals at first, I started to get quite annoyed after some time. I was over two thirds into the book and I still hardly had any information about the apocalypse and, most importantly, why this had happened. There are some clues here and there, but the reader is mostly left in the dark. The same goes for Oryx’s identity. She’s one of the title characters, yet she isn’t introduced until very late in the story. This bugged me for some reason, and I wasn’t very fond of her as a character either when she finally made an appearance.
Because of all this it almost felt as if the story only really got started over two thirds into the story. It gets really good, but I would’ve liked it to get that good earlier on. I mean, sure, some suspense is nice, but this was a bit too much for my taste. Perhaps it had to do with this being the first part of a trilogy, so there’s a lot to set up, but that isn’t really an excuse in my opinion.
Let’s be clear about something, though: my criticism is about the story progression, not about the premise of the story or the world it takes place in because those are absolutely amazing. The pre-apocalypse world is very dystopian, with science and technology basically being the reigning forces. It’s extremely thought-provoking and it makes you realise how eerily close our world actually is to becoming like the one in Oryx and Crake. While at first I was a bit disappointed that there is no mention whatsoever of politics or world leaders, I later realised that this actually makes the story even more powerful. Politics has no business in this world anymore; instead, it’s all about the big corporations. Bit scary, that.
The novel ends on a cliffhanger, which really makes me want to read on, despite my criticism. I’m curious to learn more about this world because it’s strangely intriguing, and I can only hope that the story progression will be a bit more satisfying in the rest of the trilogy.