Book swaps are one of the classic free kicks of travelling. Exchanged a chewed-up copy of Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass (in its turn picked up at a nunnery in Bamako) for Oryx and Crake in the Senegalese beach town Toubab Dialao. I got quite excited since I have enjoyed my forays into Atwood-land (The Blind Assassin and Cat’s Eye). Chomped right through it, but felt a bit nasty afterwards, and not just because of the paedophilia references (ba-doom-ching?).
But to the plot: Snowman, the protagonist, is babysitting a hyper-actualised tribe of human beings engineered by his friend Crake. They only mate at specific times, feel no sexual jealousy, and can heal each other by purring. His supervisory role is permanent — there’s no-one else left to do it. What has happened to everyone else? Where is Crake, and why is Snowman so bitter towards him? Atwood opens with a mystery looming, a trick she used to great effect in 2001′s The Blind Assassin. There’s no doubt it’s a cluey way to drag you to the end, but I’m not sure I’m fond of its employment becoming habitual.
Unabashedly post-apocalyptic subject matter definitely isn’t an issue for me. But crappily imagined vocabulary for the imagined post-(or pre-)apocalyptic world is. Oryx and Crake is a novel I would like fine, even considering its tv-soap standard dramatics (guy falls in love with an underage Asian pornographic model as a teenager, ends up being able to feed her pizza from his fingers because they’re in love or something like that), because it certainly entertains.
Comparisons of this novel to Orwell’s 1984, though, just aren’t justified. While Orwell imagined a political state with language as a mechanism for control and oppression, and realised such a language, Atwood’s clownish neologisms (pleeblands = imagine Gotham City writ large; Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages; pigoons) characterise the downfall of humankind as ridden with words that are simply jocularly ugly, rather than cleverly manipulative. Her corporate sillinesses no doubt have their stems in McTerminology, which is an example of the human enterprise’s blindness to beauty in words for sure. As far as criticisms go, there could be far worse, but Logophile’s Country this is not. For that, look to the inestimable John Banville’s The Sea, which was fellow holiday reading, review forthcoming.