Oryx and Crake
These things, they sneak up on him for no reason, these flashes of irrational happiness. It’s probably a vitamin deficiency.
There were several moments during Oryx & Crake which had a déjà-vu vibe – but this isn’t to say that the book felt like a compilation. I guess the more you turn towards a genre, the more it feels like familiar territory or, in the case of these post-apocalyptic dramas, unsettlingly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Ms. Atwood takes us backwards: from the immediate immersion in a seemingly deserted world (deserted but for Snowman and the Crakers) she retraces steps to the catastrophe that made this world possible through Snowman’s flashbacks and alcohol induced hallucinations. But even the pre-apocalypse world isn’t necessarily recognizable; it’s a world split into compounds and pleeblands (the haves and have-nots – so far nothing new) a world where gene splicing is commonplace and almost everything is artificial, including animals. For example, we have the pigoons which are basically human organ farms in the shape of pigs; unlike Kazuo Ishiguro’s future in Never let me go, where the organ farms were actually human clones – and yet still hinting towards that (with the option for cloning and the illegal baby orchards). We have wolvogs, rakunks, snats and, of course, the Crakers – the ultimate creation.
While Jimmy ‘Snowman’ is our narrator, his life has circled around Crake, his best (and only) friend since childhood and Oryx – a young woman whom they both first see as a child on a porn site and with whom they both end up falling in love – quite predictably. But their little love triangle ends with 8 simple words – 8 words which wouldn’t really say much but which, in the context, seemed to acquire a new strength, a new meaning: ” ‘I’m counting on you’ he said, and then he slit her throat. Jimmy shot him.” It verges towards the melodramatic, but to me it felt like a lot was said with so little; same as with the repeated catchphrase from Alex the Parrot (a video Jimmy saw in his childhood) – I’m going away now – which reads a little bit like the sad whine of an inevitable doom.
Jimmy’s passion for archaic expressions is in contrast with the sudden loss of meaning, of context, for much of his contemporary vocabulary – This is happening too much lately, this dissolution of meaning, the entries on his cherished wordlists drifting off into space – a similar experience to that of Paul Auster’s In the country of last things.
I think I managed to be more incoherent than usual – but you can always find the main points of the plot on Wikipedia, where it also says that Joyce Carol Oates sees Dr. Frankenstein in Crake, an easy enough parallel. Except that the Crakers, his creations, are a sort of evolution towards involution, if you will, a return to a more primitive mind, to instinctual living. They lack various neural impulses that would drive them to seek independent living, to create, to build, to grow, to become jealous or violent – they are humanoid, but devoid of anything that actually makes a human. They somehow worship Crake simply because they are told that he had created them and they regard Snowman as a sort of prophet, their own version of Moses (who even saves them from the plague unleashed by their creator, which has rendered the human race as we know it extinct) in this twisted interpretation of the creation myth. Their fragility and their docility reminds me actually more of HG Wells’s Eloi.
The novel also reads like a bit of a cautionary tale against man playing at God, against taking science too far and against even the much maligned desensitization of our age – and on these points it’s sometimes too obvious, too on the nose. But for me, the details of both the pre & post-apocalypse world and Ms. Atwood’s vivid and precise style more than make up for it.