I will preface this by saying I have only read one other Margaret Atwood work, The Handmaiden’s Tale.Also, I am aware that
many some people consider Margaret Atwood one of the world’s greatest living authors. With all that in mind I picked up Oryx and Crake at a community book sale. I believe this was originally written as a stand alone but is now the first book in a Trilogy called the MaddAddam Trilogy based on the final book of the three.
The book falls in the dystopian genre…earth in a post apocalyptic time frame. Apocalypse in the form of a particularly nasty viral outbreak. The protagonist Snowman is a survivor from the old world and the caretaker of a new species of slightly dim humans and spends time instructing them on the desires, stories and beliefs about Oryx and Crake. Flashbacks occur to the time when Snowman was a boy named Jimmy, unloved and not terribly bright, and Crake was a boy named Glenn, unloved but brilliant and according to Atwood herself, has Aspergers, and Oryx, well Oryx was an unloved child porn star with a cunning type of intelligence that allowed her to survive in the world.
There are many “big” ideas to be explored here among them, culture and religion and their development ( it is inevitable?), sexism and in particular sexualization of children, intellectual elitism, big business and the evils of capitalism, friendship and love, natural world vs. scientific exploration (in particular extinction), arrogance of man when dealing in forces he cannot hope to control, mortality vs. immortality. There is much to think about in these ideas and in the book they are grounded in in the relationship between Snowman, Crake and finally Oryx.
The story drew me in from the beginning as I wanted to know what happened to the world and why???? We always want to know why. But I have to say that if Atwood was a speaker, she would be one that I would say loved the sound of her own voice. This would have been much more powerful book if it was shorter, less detailed/graphic (do we really need to know exactly what sex acts Oryx had to perform as an 8 year old?), and less presumptious (let’s see how evil you think science and drug companies are when you or a loved one have cancer). Are the companies in the book evil? Yes, without a doubt, but they come across as charicatures in their evilness.
All in all, there is undoubtably some greatness here, but not enough to justify just under 400 pages or to draw me into a second or third turn in this world.