Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
© 2003
374 pages (hardcover)

This is an oryx:


© Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons

This is a crake:


By Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons

And this is a snowman:


By Reaperman via Wikimedia Commons

Oryx, Crake, and Snowman are the three main characters in Margaret Atwood’s creepy, imaginative, post-apocalyptic novel, Oryx and Crake.  n48235But, in the book, Oryx, Crake, and Snowman bear no resemblance to the pictures above.

The book’s protagonist is Snowman.  At the beginning of the book, Snowman is up in a tree, where he sleeps to avoid the pigoons (a genetically-altered pig used for the growth and harvesting of human organs), wolvogs (a genetically-spliced, ferocious breed of wolf-dog), and snats (hybrid snake-rats with the bodies of rats and the slithery tails and fangs of snakes).  He is alone and has little food.

Snowman’s only company are the “Children of Crake.”  These kids look vaguely human, but they have glowing green eyes and a weird orangey smell.  They wear no clothes and have no body hair.  The kids find garbage on the beach (“A plastic BlyssPluss container, empty; a ChickieNobs Bucket O’Nubbins, ditto.  A computer mouse, or busted remains of one, with a  long wiry tail”) and bring it to Snowman to learn what the mysterious items are.  They poke at his beard and his clothes (“Oh Snowman, please tell us—what is that moss growing out of your face?”).  They treat him like a prophet, and he tells them tales and legends about Oryx and Crake.

Crake is Snowman’s best childhood friend (back in the days when Snowman was Jimmy and Crake was Glenn).  They met at the HelthWyzer Compound, where both of their parents worked.  Crake was a super-smart science student bound to be a brilliant and talented geneticist.  Jimmy was an average student with family problems who liked to smoke weed, play video games, and watch internet porn.  Crake helped Jimmy with his schoolwork, and Jimmy helped Crake have fun.  Even when Crake was recruited for the top science school and Jimmy had to settle for a far-from-prestigious art school, they remained friends.

Oryx is a woman Jimmy and Glenn first saw on a porn site one afternoon when they were teenagers, and with whom they are reunited many years later.  She was Jimmy’s first crush and his first love.

Rating: 3.5/5  💉

This is a book that unravels slowly.  You start in the post-apocalyptic present, and, through Snowman’s flashbacks and memories, you learn how that present came to be.  It’s a little bit love story, a little bit mystery, and a lot bit post-apocalyptic cautionary tale.

I’m not usually a huge fan of a book that intentionally keeps you in the dark about what is happening or has happened.  I get frustrated and grow impatient.  And this is a book that definitely does just that.  On the flip side, I am a fan of “speculative fiction” of the creepy, post-apocalyptic variety (especially when genetically-spliced creatures are involved).  So, it’s a wash.

The book is alternately mad-scientist creepy and oddly romantic.  As the book unravels, your opinions about characters change, and you question your previously-made judgments and conclusions.  The writing is as good as you’d expect from Margaret Atwood.  It’s smart, sprinkled with dark humor, and creative.

The book feels a bit hastily concluded, but this is the just the first of three books in the MaddAddam Trilogy (the other two are The Year of the Flood, published in 2009, and MaddAddam, published last year). All of the books in the trilogy have gotten great reviews and lots of hype (most recently, MaddAdam was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Washington Post Notable Book and was named a Best Book of the Year by NPR and The Guardian). Suffice it to say, I’ll be reading the other two books in the trilogy in due course.

Who should read it: John (i.e., people who like fun, creative post-apocalyptic tales).  If you like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but wish it weren’t so damn bleak, or if you like The Walking Dead but wish it were a little bit (or a lot bit) smarter, then this is a good one for you.

Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:

  • This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for February 2014)
  • The Complete Persepolis (my book club’s March selection: a “memoir-in-comic-strips” about a girl growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution)

2 thoughts on “Oryx and Crake

  1. Oryx and Crake is an interesting book in its perspective on what will be the inevitable result of genetic engineering. I agree that the ending is not completely satisfying, but I suppose that the point is that even in a dystopian world there is some hope. This is the same theme that Atwood seemed to present in The Handmaid’s Tale.

    • I didn’t know you’d read this one! I agree that Atwood’s perspective on genetic engineering (maybe not the inevitable result, but certainly a possible–and scary–result) is one of the book’s strengths. The mad-scientist bits (both the creepy animal hybrids and the scary disease stuff) were some of my favorite parts. As for the ending, without giving anything away to those who haven’t read it, I will just say that your interpretation is very optimistic–a faith-in-mankind view (I would expect nothing less!). And, while I’m all for hopefulness and optimism, I don’t think the book encourages that position whole-heartedly. I’m curious to see how things play out in the next two books in the trilogy. Have you read them?

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