Monday, January 16, 2012

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

When I first picked up this Atwood novel in September 2011, I really didn't expect much from it; it was for my English final project, and I only chose it because its description sounded slightly more interesting than the rest of the books that I had to choose from. Also, the fact that it is written by Margaret Atwood actually lowered my expectation from it: if even The Handmaid's Tale— one of Atwood's most renowned and praised works— was boring for me, then how could I expect to like Oryx and Crake, one of Atwood's less popular works?

However, once I started reading this book, I realized that it is a lot better than I had expected. The novel is mysterious, eventful, suspenseful, sad, and thought-provoking—almost everything that one can look for in a good novel.

The novel is set in a not-so-distant future, and in the opening chapter we see a world that appears to be highly unsuitable for human survival (e.g., the sun has "deadly rays"). There are some human beings that seem to have been genetically altered (with resistance to the deadly rays as well as perfect looks), and Snowman is the only "normal" human who is struggling to survive. Apparently, some disaster has occurred.

For the rest of the novel, the author alternates between time periods, showing what the society has been like before its destruction— which is highly technologically-oriented and profit-driven— as well as Snowman's struggles with survival in the post-apocalyptic world. With this, we gradually learn about the nature of the disaster, as well as the character who is responsible for it.

I found the the plot to be quite intriguing and suspenseful, for it isn't until the very end of the novel that it is revealed how the disaster has occurred. However, in my opinion, the best parts of the novel are the parts that reveal what Snowman's society is like. These are the parts that challenge some ideas/beliefs of our society, the parts that disgust the readers, the parts that make the readers think and reflect. For example, the part about child pornography being available on the Internet makes readers think about the possible consequences of social inequality, as well as where the Internet culture may take us to. The genetically-altered animals, such as the pigoons (pigs that look are used to grow human organs for organ transplantations) and the ChikieNobs (chickens with twenty breasts), also let readers reflect on the morals and ethics of genetic engineering.

I also liked the character development of Snowman. Throughout the book, you could see the growth in the character, such as how he turned from being innocent and idealistic into being more worldly and practical. To me, this makes the character seem real, and allows for some personal connection.

Of course, this book isn't perfect— like all other books, it has some flaws. For example, some parts of the book— the ones about Snowman trying to survive— should have been cut by a little bit, for they quickly became repetitive. Also, I found Oryx to be unbelievable— I just couldn't imagine anyone always being so calm and unemotional.

Overall, although I didn't think Oryx and Crake would be good, it turned to be an excellent novel. It was mysterious, suspenseful, eventful, and most importantly, thought-provoking. And although I have already read it twice (because I needed to find quotes for my English project), I definitely wouldn't mind reading it a third time when I'm older.