Book review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is the latest title selected by my book club, and after having completely forgotten about it until most of the way through this month, I am glad it was a quick read.

I saw my copy of Oryx and Crake on display in an Oxfam bookshop, and initially put off by the hardback version on offer, I considered hanging on until I found a paperback, but considering the amount of time I had left to read it, I decided to buy that one. Oh what a happy decision. I love books with great book covers. Before getting on with a review of the content, I must quickly pay note to the cover. The book’s paper slip is fine, quite funky, even. But after a few chapters I took it off for ease of holding, and I think I actually exclaimed “wow!”. The book has a really incredible green detailed cover. I won’t spoil it, but will just tell you to look once, then take a closer, longer look.

So, content: I feel as though all of the chapters of Oryx and Crake could be placed in a line, side by side. I feel as though Atwood did this, took five paces to the left of the first chapter, decided this would be her starting point, and then took about eight paces to the left of the ending, and decided this was where she would finish the book. It’s a slow starter. I really wasn’t sure I was getting into it until about three quarters of the way through, when all of a sudden the plot picks up a lot of pace and ends before you’ve realised it.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The story slowly explains how Snowman has come to be in the frightful position of the dystopian survival he is in, and how a girl he feels as though he’s known his whole life (Oryx) and his child, and adulthood best friend (Crake) come to dictate the fateful turn of events for him, and the rest of the world.

The book takes a long time to get to a point where you really know what is happening, and until then you feel as though you’re listening to an acquaintance tell a mildly interesting anecdote about their lives when all you really want to do is ask them to get to the point. As soon as they do, someone calls last orders.

I’m not particularly a fan of books, or films for that matter, that let the audience decide the ending for themselves. No. This is plain lazy writing. The author has had half a great idea for a novel, but couldn’t quite figure out how to end it, so they didn’t.

A few years ago I read The Handmaid’s Tale, probably Atwood’s most famous novel, and while my memory is hazy on the plot structure, reading Oryx and Crake definitely felt as though it belonged to a similar style. Her books are quick, enjoyable reads, but with no huge hit of emotion or lasting feeling. She’s a pinch too much on the good side to describe as a holiday read, but I also can’t imagine reading much of her other work besides if I need something to see me through a few days.

The biggest thing I felt Oryx and Crake was lacking was a female narrative. Not everyone will feel the need for one, and it is something I had never knowingly identified as wanting before, but when Oryx enters the story I felt a sudden increase of pace and excitement. Maybe it’s true what they say, every good plot needs a love story. Whether this just guarantees a wider audience or not, I’m not sure, but for me, the story would have been a lot more enjoyable if Oryx had featured more highly as a main character from the beginning, whereas in Oryx and Crake, her place doesn’t feel worthy of a slot in the title.

Crake’s character, on the other hand, is a really fascinating one, and one that I could see being a typical star of Internet fan fiction. His whole persona is strong enough to see the plot take on its own angle single-handedly, and if Oryx and Crake were a film, Crake: the man behind it all, would be the prequel.

If you haven’t read any Atwood before, then Oryx and Crake is probably a good first book. If you have, you can more than likely count on it that this book will leave you with similar feelings to her others, whether you loved them or thought they balanced the average scales rather well. Either way, the cover looks damn cool on the bookshelf once you’ve finished with it.

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2 thoughts on “Book review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

  1. I don’t agree that open-ended or ambiguous endings represent lazy writing. Or at least, I don’t agree that they always do. If it seems sudden and out of place, then it probably hasn’t been earned. It can be a stunt, I agree. I agree with your comments about the pacing of this one.

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