Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Oryx and Crake Part Deux

A few years back, Margaret Atwood released Oryx and Crake, one of the greatest literary speculative fiction novels I have ever read. Last year, she put out The Year of the Flood, a book which features two minor characters from the first book. It is not a sequel, but takes place at essentially the same time as the earlier book. This sounds odd, and it is. Most people reading it will have read Oryx and Crake, either because they like Atwood or they learn this is a follow on book. So the ending is already known. You even know some of the characters.

Still, the book is different. The earlier book focused on intellectuals in the upper social strata. This one deals with people of faith trying to survive in an increasingly cruel world. The particular faith is a Christianity blended with nature worship. The saints are the likes of Dian Fossey and Rachel Carson, those that tried and sometimes did protect the natural world. The faithful, called the Gardeners, have a strict vegetarian and recycling lifestyle, which makes sense in a world where the most popular burger chain is Secret Burger. The name refers to the mysterious nature of the source of the meat.

To be honest, I wasn't much taken with the overall story. It was OK. What I did like was Atwood's writing, her portrayal of the characters, and the details of the world she constructed. The tone is a rebuke to our consumerist world, which pays little heed to the destruction of the environment, the peril of the growth of corporate power and our isolation from each other.

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