#CBR7 Review #176: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My current research is focusing on dystopia, art, and social destruction, so it was time to give the MaddAddam trilogy a re-read. I read Oryx and Crake two and a half years ago for CBR5, and while I counted it the weakest of the trilogy then, I have to recant somewhat and give it a rave review. Allow me to explain what I mean.

I won’t recap the book for you here, since I did so two years ago. Instead, I’ll share my insights from this round of reading. What really blew my mind during this re-read was the connection between consumerist excess and social destruction. The depictions of genetically modified foods, technological innovations, and passive intake of materialist culture is chilling, not because it is unfamiliar but because it is eerily similar to our world today. Another aspect of interest was the relationship between art and pornography through a postmodern focus (this actually came up at my dissertation defense, so thanks to my third reader, GC, for his insights on pornography in Oryx and Crake!). And then there’s the nature of Oryx herself. Jimmy creates a narrative for her (and she never reveals her true name), but is it really her throughout the years? Does she do half of what Jimmy fears? Is she even real? This, to me is the most fascinating part of the novel. Plus, the novel’s shift between the past and future (really “after” the end of the world) hurtles us between two extremes—an excavation of the past to where we see how the world fell apart, and an exploration of a future we have no context for.

If you want to read the trilogy, you must. And you really should start here. Oryx and Crake is a gripping apocalyptic tale. The main character is not sympathetic, but he serves as an entry point to a world we may yet enter.

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