Posts Tagged ‘margaret atwood’


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.


the blind assassin is clever, but not in the way those familiar with margaret atwood’s poetic timbre might at first think. with immaculate, painstaking precision, atwood amortizes the story of iris chase griffen. iris is an ex-society wife crumbling away in near-urban canada, whose story is revealed through the canny use of interstitial literature.

because of their thorough nature, the weight of their wend, the ostensibly amateur scribblings of iris griffen are well in need of the respite offered by the interspersed portions of newspaper chatter and a ‘novel’. this fictional novel, authored by iris’ heterodox sister laura chase, is the ‘real’ the blind assassin. the difference between the author’s dessicated present and the parenthetical past suspends in its solution an apposite bathos, the figuring of the space between and within the self. atwood marks well the severe consequences of such disaccord. the prettiness of atwood’s elderly narrator’s language, and her self-imposed task of remembering the histories of others is conveyed at length, and can sag. in contrast, the immediacy and creativity of the pages attributed to laura are robust; they rise as if still breathing when exhumed from a mausoleum wrought grey with time.

the waves, the characteristic constant cursive ‘w’ of the novel’s narrative force is effective, but wearying. an effect of this, likely intended, is the incomplete sketching of the various characters. from the numinous laura to the chases’ strangled father, norval, iris’ flawed gaze construes the players in bemused monochrome, much like the bizarre photograph tints favoured by the young laura. the passive subjects of these portraits are realised most intensely in their effects on iris, the repository of their collective folly, pride, betrayal and love.

(an aside: i’ve always admired how validating it is to win a booker prize. it gets plastered on everything you ever do. perhaps you’ll write a little paragraph for your old school paper. or you’ll write a bad book. forever you will be ‘booker prize winner’ X. even if you kill or rape someone, although perhaps not for certain after that.)