A review by mattmatros
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

3.0

Since my only other experience with Atwood comes from reading The Handmaid's Tale (maybe one of my two or three favorite books of all time), expectations for this novel were through the roof. But I understand that's not fair, and so I give Oryx and Crake an extra star even though deep down I don't think it's deserved.

The social commentary provided by this novel's dystopian future seemed completely obvious to me. Art has lost its value. It's bad to genetically alter animals. The food industry is disgusting. There is a rich/poor, educated/uneducated gap. The child sex trade is not right. We already know all this, and it isn't any more horrifying in this novel than when I read about it on Facebook every day. I think part of the problem is that ten years ago, when Oryx and Crake was published (and even more so pre-9/11, when Atwood started writing), a lot of the issues Atwood raised really were off people's radars. Not so now, which is probably to society's credit, but it makes her novel seem dated. The brilliance of The Handmaid's Tale is it feels as relevant today as ever, which I think is because the world Atwood creates in that book is one we'd all love to believe could never happen. But the more I read, the more plausibly terrifying it all became. In Oryx and Crake, most of the scary "future" problems are already taking place in 2013. It's missing the element of "this can't be? oh wait, it can!"

On a narrative level, not much about this book worked for me. The characters are not fleshed out (who is Oryx? she is one half of the title, and she's basically a non-entity), and the prose is pedestrian. Again, I can't help comparing with The Handmaid's Tale, which is so superbly and beautifully written it feels like magic. Oryx and Crake is necessarily bland against that backdrop. Maybe Atwood's mistake was ever trying to write another novel after producing such a masterpiece!

So anyway, in summary, I didn't enjoy this book at all, but I'm willing to allow that unrealistic expectations played a role in my forming of that opinion.