Review: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I have finished Oryx and Crake. I now realize that this was an utterly silly thing to do. Friends had mentioned to me that they weren’t going to read it (or The Year of the Flood) “just yet” as they wanted to keep it for a rainy day. I, friends, could not wait. Now I realize that it’s like when you watch a season of Dexter in a few nights and then you’re all pumped to watch the next season, live, and it’s the biggest bummer. Who wants to wait a week between episodes? I do not want to wait until 2013 for the third book in the Maddaddam series. I don’t want to, but I suppose I must. In a recent series of tweets from Peggy Atwood herself, I was told that the third book was going to be about the mysterious Zeb who appeared here and there in The Year of the Flood, but only in Oryx and Crake if you knew that he was behind the scenes, which I did, as I was reading the books out of order.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Want to know why I was really so disappointed? It’s because I didn’t do my research (like, at all) and totally thought that In Other Worlds was book three. What a downer when I went to find it at Indigo only to be directed to the non-fiction section. I felt like this.

Now let’s talk about Oryx and Crake. The book follows “Snowman/Jimmy” who is a survivor of some great catastrophe (hint: I know what it is because I read The Year of the Flood first) and who seems to be the leader, much to his disappointment, of a human-esque species that have been created and left behind by the mysterious Oryx and Crake; friends of Snowman’s who seemed to have not survived the collapse of the world as we know it. Jimmy, as Snowman was known before, feels utterly alone. He cannot survive for long on the one fish per day as provided by the “Crakers”, as Jimmy calls them, so he decides to venture away from the water where he has been surviving to the city where the disaster began. As he takes this journey, he seems tormented by his memories of his life before the “waterless flood” and cannot help recounting them and thus revisiting the people and hardships of his past.

I was trying far a long time to figure out why I wasn’t connecting with the book as much as I had The Year of the Flood, when I realized that Jimmy’s character who breezes in and out of the second book is kind of a jerk. Where I should be feeling my usual connection to the protagonist, I was instead viewing all his actions with a judgemental eye, wondering when or if my favourite characters from The Year of the Flood would appear. Ren doesn’t make an appearance though she dates Jimmy for years (no, that wasn’t a spoiler), but Amanda does, and she’s nowhere near the Amanda we meet in The Year of the Flood. In fact, I wonder if people who had read these books in order had found it difficult to like Amanda as a main character in book two. I hope not.

There was a great deal of Jimmy’s past revealed, and many questions I had about how the waterless flood came to be were answered, but I had really wanted to know more about the “present” in the novel. I think that the story of Oryx and Crake only took place in 3 or 4 days in the book and I was so wanting more. In The Year of the Flood there are moments of looking back on one’s past, but also a great deal of time passes in the “present” so I felt that I gleaned way more about the Maddaddam (oh wow – only now did I just realize that it was a palindrome) world during that reading.

I was so pleased that both of these books were on the Canada Reads 10th Anniversary longlist or, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read them. Yes, I had heard that they didn’t need to be read in order and I agree. I do really wonder though what it would have been like to read them the other way around. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my mum once about how the human brain can never “unknow” something. When I first saw the movie The Reader, I knew nothing about it. When my mum saw it, she had watched the trailer first where they reveal that Hannah Schmidt, the woman being read to, is a Nazi. Having not known this, I viewed Hannah completely differently than my mum did throughout the film until the truth is revealed about half way through. I never really could understand why they had revealed something like that in the trailer – my mum and I had had completely different viewing experiences. The fact that she knew Schmidt was a Nazi made her think the relationship with the young boy was tainted and creepy where I found it touching and pure. You can’t “unknow” something, just like I couldn’t forget how Jimmy had treated Ren and this, I think, disconnected me from him. Having said that, maybe there would be a change in the way Amanda was viewed if you read the books in order, or the way the God’s Gardeners are alluded to in Oryx and Crake as a crazy cult where as in The Year of the Flood they are ecologically smart and in touch with their world.

Who knows. If someone has read them in order I would love to hear what you thought. Up next: The Book of Negroes.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Henrietta says:

    Great review of one of my favorite author's works, Allegra! BTW, I found your blog through a tweet that Margaret Atwood herself retweeted. Not too shabby! 🙂

  2. Mandy says:

    Great review!

    I read Oryx and Crake when it first came out and then I read The Year of the Flood much, much later. It took me a while to connect the two in my head and even then, I didn't really remember my reaction to Jimmy and Amanda. It would probably be very different had I read them back to back!

  3. Henrietta – thanks! I was pretty pleased that she retweeted the review… blog stats went up, that's for sure! I loved this book.

    Mandy – I appreciate the comments! Other than the world of the Maddaddam series, I can see how the stories barely intertwine. I am so tempted to reread The Year of the Flood, but I know there's so much more out there to read that I should hold off… at least for now!

  4. My reading of these was like Mandy's, read O&C within days of its being published, then TYotF shortly after it was published, too.

    Although I had admired O&C at the time, I didn't think I would necessarily want to re-read it (at the time there was no buzz about companion novels, so I was viewing it as a standalone), but as soon as I finished TYotF, I immediately wanted to re-read O&C.

    I felt like I had just enough missing puzzle pieces to make me want to make another pass, even though I knew that it wouldn't be complete, even so.

    And how frustrating for you to think that you could read the third, only to learn that you have to wait! Heheh. But if it's any consolation you're not alone in wanting the wait to be o-v-e-r!

  5. So glad to hear I'm not alone! As I said, I don't know whether I would have wanted to read O&C again, but I know that TYotF I would read again and I wonder if that's because of the order I read them in, or because TYotF was 'better'. Did you end up rereading O&C?
    I'm glad I'll have someone to chat to when the third book comes out!

  6. Andrew m says:

    I read oryx and crake first and related a lot to jimmy and loved his character which made me excited to whenever he made an appearance in the year of the flood. This being said I still liked ren a lot but more in a feel bad sort of way. Amanda never made an impression on me and really just made me feel more bad for ren.
    great books loved everything about them

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