Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel that imagines a future where humans have taken gene splicing and genetic engineering (and other science-y stuff) to the extreme. This novel can be considered a warning about what can happen when humans mess with nature and think they can create perfection.
When the novel opens, our protagonist, who is currently calling himself the Snowman, is living in a world where he is alone, except for the Crakers. The Crakers are a small group of people that are not quite the same as him. They are human, but not quite.
Throughout the book, the Snowman reflects on his life and his lifelong friendship with Crake, a brilliant scientist. As the novel progresses we learn about the series of events that led to the Snowman’s current situation. Actually, we don’t learn. We can infer, since Atwood never explicitly explains the entire situation. From the beginning, we know it’s Crake’s doing, but we don’t know the why or the how. Eventually, the how becomes clear…the why, however, is only hinted at. Additionally, we continue to learn more about the Crakers, and why they might be the way they are.
Just as important to both the Snowman and the Crakers is Oryx, a mysterious woman with a small but vital role. Before he was the Snowman, the Snowman was Jimmy. And Jimmy loved Oryx. The Crakers, however, have apparently deified her. Oryx’s story (but only the part that Jimmy knows) is also divulged through the course of the book.
I loved how the story unfolded. I expected this to be my book for this week, but I ended up staying up last night to finish it. Because I just had to know what happened! I also appreciate the tone of the book. While the company names and the new animals (pig + baboon = pigoon) seem almost ridiculous and far-fetched, it’s not improbable that we’re heading in the direction that Atwood imagines.
Totally off topic, this sentence at the end of the book struck me because of the audio book I’m currently listening to:
“Crake used to say that Homo sapiens sapiens was not hard-wired to individuate other people in numbers above two hundred, the size of the primal tribe and Jimmy would reduce that number to two.” -page 343
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks at length about how 150-200 people seems to be the ideal size for a group, whether it be an army unit or a Hutterite community. I had never heard of this theory (although, evidently Atwood has), so it was odd to see it pop up in two books that I’m currently reading. Just another one of those weird literary coincidences.
Atwood’s sequel to Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, is due out next month (9/22, to be exact). I can’t wait.