Oryx and Crake
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Date: 3 July, 2003
Reviewed by Charlotte Haines
Margaret Atwood's eleventh novel depicts a future dystopia after environmental and scientific catastrophes, in what feels like a skilful cross between a sinister Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Z for Zachariah. After the apocalypse, Snowman an apparent lone survivor of his species, tries to survive the hungry wolvgogs, pigoons and other bio-creations and live on the meagre offerings of the Children of Crake.
As he pieces together memories of the past, Snowman tries to make sense of how Crake and Oryx played their part in the creation of the world. His quest takes us on tours of the biotechnology compounds, who are all working on their latest creations, in the quest for the perfect life including a species that produces chicken breasts without heads or feelings, enabling easy, "ethical" harvesting.
You'll never view scientists' magical promises in quite the same way after reading Oryx and Crake. However Atwood does not so much attack science as question humanity. What drives us? Will we do anything for eternal life? Are all our altruistic endeavours undermined by greed? Disturbing questions indeed, when in the possession of the author of the Handmaids Tale; another bleak picture of the future that is dominated by right wing religious fundamentalists.
Whilst apocryphal, the book taps into our current fears with lines such as: "Remember when you could fly anywhere in the world, without fear?" "Live performance had suffered in the sabotage panics of the early twenty-first century."Oh and there's a devastating viral outbreak that entails countries closing their borders to others.
Atwood should be congratulated on providing us with such a difficult novel. As well as facing the darker side of humanity, the reader has to engage with the question of God; do we create God or does God create us? Can we live without God? But most alarming is how we are forced to sit with Snowman on a knife edge: we need to love, we need somebody other, but when we are afraid, do we reach out and attack or reach out in love?