For all the details on this read-along, head over to the sign up post on Reading in Winter.
“Read-along” implies that the participants will read the book on the same schedule. I deviated from the assigned dates a little bit with Moby Dick, but this is a bit extreme. I read the first assigned section, parts 1-3, in my first sitting. I believe I read all the way to part 6 or 7 on the first day. I tried to ration it. I tried to read my other book instead, but my other book was Northanger Abbey which is such a bore compared to this. I finished the book in four days.
Why was I compelled to inhale this book like a line of crushed ritalin? Aside from the stellar writing and characterization, Atwood’s pacing and world-building is compelling and addictive. She reveals just enough to make this near-future wasteland seem utterly real, and holds back enough to make you keep you in suspense. It’s a precarious balance that she manages beautifully.
I’ll still post on schedule, and will have to be extra careful about spoilers. I’ve started Year of the Flood in the meantime, and should be all set for the last book in the series, MaddAddam, on September 3rd.
Part 1-3 Reaction
Epigraph: It’s notable that Atwood chose two quotes for the epigraph (fancy name for quotes at the beginning of a book.) It’s no Moby-Dick, with its pages of excerpts, but it’s still kind of a ballsy move. Like, one pretentious quote isn’t enough? The first quote is from Gulliver’s Travels, and the second is from To The Lighthouse. I’ve never read Gulliver’s Travels, but Google tells me it’s an early example of dystopian fiction, so that makes sense. I have read To The Lighthouse, and I’m having a hard time thinking of a parallel between the books. Here’s the quote:
Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle and leaping from a pinnacle of a tower into the air?
I guess it speaks to the chaotic state of the world as the story begins.
Dystopia. So Hot Right Now. Dystopia.: I can’t help but notice that YA dystopian fiction is having a moment. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Cinder. These books are everywhere. Atwood couldn’t ask for better timing to release the third book in this series. Rick at Another Book Blog pointed out the “YA-ification” of the paperback cover art and I bet that’s not coincidence. There’s crossover potential here.
I thought I hadn’t read much dystopian literature, but once I thought about it, I realize that I have actually read quite a few:
- Brave New World. Such an obvious comparison, though I don’t know if Atwood’s world will be as timeless as Huxley’s. I remember being shocked at the publication date on BNW. It reads so modern for something written in the 1930s.
- Infinite Jest. I never thought of IJ as dystopian till now, but it totally is. Atwood’s descriptions in this section kind of remind me of IJ’s wasteland, The Great Concavity.
- Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty. This YA dystopian series actually has more in common with Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s interesting to note that in the first 44 pages of Oryx and Crake, we get more depth of character and context than in that whole series. Atwood is just so skilled and exacting.
- Honourable Mentions: 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Atlas Shrugged, A Clockwork Orange, The Children of Men, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Snowman – Cool Story, Bro: Atwood says she chose a male lead for this book simply because she was tired of being asked why all her leads were female, but I don’t buy it. I may be over-thinking, but I believe authors, especially those as meticulous and focused as Atwood, have a reason for all their choices. I just don’t know what it is in this case. Snowman is kind of unremarkable, and I spent most of this section wondering if he was crazy. I see him as unreliable and an anti-hero. I was curious about the intrusive thoughts and memories that plague him. Is that a symptom of whatever went wrong? Or a symptom of a man losing his mind due to isolation?
Oryx and Crake: Crake’s identify is a mystery. Is he a man or a god? A man that made himself into a god? A god that Snowman imagines as a man? And Oryx is little more than a disembodied voice at this point. But, you know, they’re in the title, so you better pay attention.
In 44 pages, Atwood had me engrossed. I don’t find her writing particularly beautiful or poetic, thought I’ve heard it described as such, but what she lacks in flowery language she makes up for in pacing, plot, characters, and satire.
Till next week! Check out the other read-along posts at Reading in Winter. Kristilyn and Rick both did a bang up job!