Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake was published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is the first of the MaddAddam trilogy.  The novel is described by the author as speculative fiction and in general as a dystopian novel.

This is the second of Atwood’s novels that I’ve read, the first being The Handmaid’s Tale, and while they are very different in storyline they are similar in that they are both unsettling stories about a very plausible end of the world as we know it.  oryx and crake atwood

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. (GoodReads)

The GoodReads blurb describes it as an ‘unforgettable love story’ which I wouldn’t agree with.  This book isn’t about love; it’s about a world of segregation between the haves and have-nots, the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, the obedient and the rebels.  It’s what our world could very seriously resemble if we continue on the path of fixating on living in security complexes, on being young and immortal, and on unscrupulously modifying genetics to solve immediate problems.

It’s a bleak and horrifying world which could easily have turned into a horror story but told through the eyes of down-to-earth Snowman we are able to experience this story as if it were completely normal.  He is the perfect narrator for this story and an unforgettable character.

I enjoy reading Atwood’s books very much and look forward to reading more as well as carrying on the MaddAddam adventure.  I did enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale more but Oryx and Crake did not disappoint and I’m happy to have finally read it.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

TBR Chronicles #08

This month Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Heart Goes Last, was published.  I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale and have a lot of her other books on my The Heart Goes LastTBR so it just makes sense that her latest offering goes on the list.

Another new release coming next month is David Mitchell’s Slade HouseSlade House is the novel which follows the highly The Bone Clocksacclaimed The Bone Clocks which I have also earmarked for reading.  I have quite a few David Mitchell books on my TBR too so these two new releases were not only exciting but also a kick in the rear to get said rear into gear and get through some of these great books.

This month I added a John Steinbeck book to my TBR.  The truth is that Slade Housedespite being aware of his books’ status as classics of literature I have never really found myself all that interested.  Probably because Grapes of Wrath is the one everyone raves about and it doesn’t seem to pique my interest.  East of Eden, however, I am now very interested in because Steinbeck is said to have spoken of East of Eden with pride:East of Eden

“It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years.” He further claimed, “I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.” (Read the article)

The final addition to my TBR list this month comes from Italo Calvino but not in the form of his fiction.  Why Read the Classics?Calvino’s Why Read The Classics came to my attention as I have been working on creating my own list of novels to include in Lilolia’s Friday Book Feature post series which used to follow some popular book lists.  I read an article on Brain Pickings with excerpts from this book about how to classify classics and there were some points I agreed with and so I was convinced to read this book.

 

Have you read any of these?  I’d love to hear what you thought.

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale has been on my TBR for a while now and I was blown away.  If you’re not familiar with this book yet let me The Handmaid's Taleshare with you the GoodReads blurb:

“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…”

What a thought provoking and well written book!  The way Atwood chose to write this book lends itself to the fear it makes you feel (even now despite being published in the 80’s) when you begin to realise that this could happen to us now.  This isn’t about a time long ago before the fight for gender equality began.  It is about a time that very much resembles the world we live in today.  It is a bit shocking but also a consuming read.  I loved how Atwood did not reveal all at once but very slowly made revelations about this world and the ending is like an anvil to the head.  I cannot give you any details for fear of ruining this book for you but I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to move on to Atwood’s other books.  Highly recommended.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

 

FBF: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Lilolia Friday Book Feature Post Header

 

 

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood was published in 2000.  It is a highly acclaimed novel that won the Man Booker Prize in 2000, the Hammett Prize in 2001, and was nominated for Governor General’s Award in 2000, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and The Blind Assassinthe International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.

The novel is best described by Lev Grossman of TIME: ‘Frosty, reserved Iris and her hot-blooded sister Laura grow up wealthy and privileged in a chilly Canadian town. But when the family fortune falters in the Depression, Iris is married off to a cruel industrialist, and Laura drives her car off a bridge, leaving behind a pulpy science fiction novel (presented in parallel to the primary plot) that seems to contain a coded, masked guide to the secrets that ruled her life and brought about her early death. Told in the brittle, acerbic voice of the elderly Iris, who is left behind to decode Laura’s legacy, The Blind Assassin is a tour-de-force of nested narratives, subtle reveals and buried memories.’

The Blind Assassin is a novel to read and definitely makes my TBR list.  Its plot and characters are twisted and complex.  From what I read about this book it’s difficult to say anything specific about it without revealing something that should be revealed through reading.  The best article I read about this book was Wheels Within Wheels by Thomas Malon and this quote I think probably best encapsulates the driving force behind this novel:

‘Nearly 20 years ago, in speaking of her craft, the novelist Margaret Atwood observed that ”a character in a book who is consistently well behaved probably spells disaster for the book.”’

And this book, according to critics, is far from disastrous.  Have you read this novel?  What did you think of it?

9 Pieces of Writer Wisdom from Paris Review Interviews

Over the last two weeks or so I have spent some time reading some of the online Paris Review Interviews and many ofparis review interview booksthem have been very interesting to read.  Some of them have inspired me to read certain, possibly lesser known, novels from great and well loved authors.  If you enjoy the interviews as much as I did you may be interested in the Four Volume Boxed Set of The Paris Review Interviews full of many more of these wonderful in depth interviews with leading novelists, poets, and playwrights.

Here are 9 pieces of writer wisdom put together from some of my favourites of the interviews.

1. Write as if you are writing in secret.

Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208

INTERVIEWER
How does your father feel about your books?

ERDRICHerdrich_pic
He gave me those nickels, remember? It didn’t occur to me that my books would be widely read at all, and that enabled me to write anything I wanted to. And even once I realized that they were being read, I still wrote as if I were writing in secret. That’s how one has to write anyway—in secret. At a certain point, you have to not please your parents, although for me that’s painful because I’m close to my parents and of course I want them to be happy.”

2. You don’t need to go to college to learn to write.

Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203

INTERVIEWERbradbury
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

3. Don’t overwrite.

Jonathan Franzen, The Art of Fiction No. 207

FRANZENJonathan_Franzen
I’d started by working for months and months on the first chapter, which was about Probst walking his dog and thinking with culpably extreme satisfaction about his accomplishments. I poured countless hours into very purple sentences describing the beauty of the light in Webster Groves, my hometown, on a late weekday afternoon. It was a chapter that ended with the death of the dog. It was terribly overwritten.

INTERVIEWER
What do you mean by overwritten?

FRANZEN
Trying to do too much with a sentence. I was very much still under the spell of the Germans. You can do things in German with sentence structure that are less advisable in English—pack in all sorts of syntactical elements ­before the final verb. I was playing with language and with the possibilities of sound, although not so much with alliteration. I’d read Rabbit, Run at a certain point and spent a couple of weeks being highly alliterative before coming to my senses and realizing that not only was my alliteration bad, Updike’s was, too.
I was doing a lot of punning, though. I was very attached at that young age to pure linguistic play, and blissfully unaware of how it might all read. I thought the concept of my book, the unfolding of a conspiracy, ought to be strong enough to drag the reader through any amount of linguistic playfulness.
I was reaching; I was writing about stuff I didn’t really know anything about and trying to incorporate every scrap of information and interesting observation I’d ever had. I would write as many pages as I could in a day. I once wrote seventeen pages in a day. And those seventeen pages are in the finished book. When I got rolling, my determination to get the book done and have it be good and get it published was so strong that I had limit­less ­energy. The finished manuscript was thirteen hundred pages. I was twenty-five.

4. A character’s choice of words or dialogue is a powerful tool because it is so revealing.

David Mitchell, The Art of Fiction No. 204

INTERVIEWERdavid mitchell
What about dialogue? You’ve had that skill from the very beginning.

MITCHELL
Dialogue is a halfway house. I heard the British crime writer David Peace speak last year. David’s a second-person narrative specialist, and a member of the audience asked what it is about the second person that appeals to him. David’s deadpan reply was, Well, it’s halfway between the first person and the third. Dialogue-driven narrative is a more conventional means of having first-person connection with third-person detachment from you, the writer. It’s an elastic-tether way for people with first-person dependency issues—like me—to range further than the “I” form usually allows. Dialogue can be a revealing tool—you can smuggle in a lot about your characters simply by their choice of words. On seeing a snapshot of my infant son, an elderly and somewhat racist relative exclaimed, But he doesn’t even look Japanese! Rather than get angry, I thanked her, inwardly, for reminding me how revealing a person’s choice of words can be. I also thought, I’ll use that line one day.

5. Give your first draft time to breathe before you go back to it to rewrite.

Stephen King, The Art of Fiction No. 189

INTERVIEWER
What do you do once you finish a first draft?

KINGstephen_king
It’s good to give the thing at least six weeks to sit and breathe. But I don’t always have that luxury. I didn’t have it with Cell. The publisher had two manuscripts of mine. One of them was Lisey’s Story, which I had been working on exclusively for a long time, and the other was Cell, which I had been thinking about for a long time, and it just sort of announced itself: It’s time, you have to do it now. When that happens, you have to do it or let it go, so Cell was like my unplanned pregnancy.

INTERVIEWER
You mean you wrote Cell in the middle of writing Lisey’s Story?

KING
I was carrying both of them at the same time for a while. I had finished a first draft ofLisey, so I revised it at night and worked on Cell during the day. I used to work that way when I was drinking. During the day I would work on whatever was fresh and new, and I was pretty much straight as an arrow. Hung over a lot of the time, but straight. At night I’d be looped, and that’s when I would revise. It was fun, it was great, and it seemed to work for me for a long time, but I can’t sustain that anymore.
I wanted to publish Lisey first, but Susan Moldow, Scribner’s publisher, wanted to lead with Cell because she thought the attention it would receive would benefit the sale of Lisey. So they put Cell on a fast track, and I had to go right to work on the rewrite. This is one thing publishers can do now, which isn’t always necessarily good for the book.

INTERVIEWER
Can’t you tell them no?

KING
Yes, but in this case it was actually the right thing to do, and it was a huge success. Cell was an unusual case though. You know, Graham Greene used to talk about books that were novels and books that were entertainments. Cell was an entertainment. I don’t want to say I didn’t care, because I did—I care about anything that goes out with my name on it. If you’re going to do the work and if someone is going to pay you for it, I think you ought to do the best job that you can. But after I finished the first draft of Lisey, I gave myself six weeks. When you return to a novel after that amount of time, it seems almost as if a different person wrote it. You’re not quite as wedded to it. You find all sorts of horrible errors, but you also find passages that make you say, Jesus, that’s good!

6. Don’t worry about getting the story perfect in the first draft because you can go back to it and tweak it once it has revealed itself to you.

Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182

INTERVIEWERmurakami
You say that you don’t know who the killer is as you’re writing, but a possible exception occurs to me: the character of Gotanda in Dance Dance Dance. There’s a certain deliberate buildup in that novel toward the moment at which Gotanda makes his confession—in classic crime-novel style, he’s presented to us as the last person to suspect. Did you not perhaps know that Gotanda was guilty in advance?

MURAKAMI
In the first draft I didn’t know it was Gotanda. Closer to the end—two-thirds in or so—I knew. When I wrote the second draft I rewrote the Gotanda scenes, knowing it was him.

INTERVIEWER
Is that one of the main purposes of revision, then—to take what you’ve learned from the end of the first draft and rework the earlier sections to give a certain feeling of inevitability?

MURAKAMI
That’s right. The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise.

INTERVIEWER
How many drafts do you generally go through?

MURAKAMI
Four or five. I spend six months writing the first draft and then spend seven or eight months rewriting.

7. Experiment with narration points of view until the character comes through you and leads you through the story.

Salman Rushdie, The Art of Fiction No. 186

INTERVIEWER
What was it about Saleem Sinai that released you?

RUSHDIE Salman-Rushdie1
I’d always wanted to write something that would come out of my experience as a child in Bombay. I’d been away from India for a while and began to fear that the connection was eroding. Childhood—that was the impetus long before I knew what the story was and how big it would become. But if you’re going to have the child born at the same time as the country, so that they’re twins in a way, you have to tell the story of both twins. So it forced me to take on history. One of the reasons it took five years to write is that I didn’t know how to write it. One early version opened with the line, “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” I meant that children don’t come naked into the world, they come burdened with the accumulated history of their family and their world. But it was too Tolstoyan. I thought, If there’s one thing this book is not, it’s Anna Karenina. The sentence is still there in the book somewhere, but I buried it.
The third-person narration wasn’t working, so I decided to try a first-person narrative, and there was a day when I sat down and I wrote more or less exactly what is now the first page of Midnight’s Children. It just arrived, this voice of Saleem’s: quite savvy, full of all kinds of arcana, funny but sort of ridiculous. I was electrified by what was coming out of my typewriter. It was one of those moments when you believe that the writing comes through you rather than from you. I saw how to drag in everything from the ancient traditions of India to the oral narrative form to, above all, the noise and the music of the Indian city. That first paragraph showed me the book. I held onto Saleem’s coattails and let him run. As the book developed, as Saleem grew up, there were moments where I felt frustrated by him. As he got older, he became more and more passive. I kept trying to force him to be more active, to take charge of events—and it just didn’t work. Afterwards, people assumed the book was autobiographical, but to me Saleem always felt very unlike me, because I had a kind of wrestling match with him, which I lost.

8. To create genuine characters, good and bad, we have to identify with them but there must be areas where they don’t represent you.

Chinua Achebe, The Art of Fiction No. 139

INTERVIEWERchinua achebe
One of the great women characters you have created, I think, is Beatrice in Anthills of the Savannah. Do you identify with her? Do you see any part of yourself in that character? She’s sort of a savior, I think.

ACHEBE
Yes, yes, I identify with her. Actually, I identify with all my characters, good and bad. I have to do that in order to make them genuine. I have to understand them even if I don’t approve of them. Not completely—it’s impossible; complete identification is, in fact, not desirable. There must be areas in which a particular character does not represent you. At times, though, the characters—like Beatrice—do contain, I think, elements of my own self and my systems of beliefs and hopes and aspirations. Beatrice is the first major woman character in my fiction. Those who do not read me as carefully as they ought have suggested that this is the only woman character I have ever written about and that I probably created her out of pressure from the feminists. Actually, the character of Beatrice has been there in virtually all my fiction, certainly from No Longer at Ease, A Man of the People, right down to Anthills of the Savannah. There is a certain increase in the importance I assign to women in getting us out of the mess that we are in, which is a reflection of the role of women in my traditional culture—that they do not interfere in politics until men really make such a mess that the society is unable to go backward or forward. Then women will move in . . . this is the way the stories have been constructed, and this is what I have tried to say. In one of Sembene Ousmane’s films he portrays that same kind of situation where the men struggle, are beaten and cannot defend their rights against French colonial rule. They surrender their rice harvest, which is an abomination. They dance one last time in the village arena and leave their spears where they danced and go away—this is the final humiliation. The women then emerge, pick up the spears, and begin their own dance. So it’s not just in the Igbo culture. It seems to be something that other African peoples also taught us.

9. There is no right or wrong way to write a novel.  Whether you write it linearly from beginning to end or write it in segments as scenes come to you what matters is that you write it how you are comfortable.

Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction No. 121

INTERVIEWER
Do you write a novel from page one through to the end?

ATWOODatwood
No. Scenes present themselves. Sometimes it proceeds in a linear fashion, but sometimes it’s all over the place. I wrote two parts of Surfacing five years before I wrote the rest of the novel—the scene in which the mother’s soul appears as a bird and the first drive to the lake. They are the two anchors for that novel.

 

Doris Lessing, The Art of Fiction No. 102

INTERVIEWERDoris_Lessing
I’d imagine then that you work from beginning to end, rather than mixing around . . .

LESSING
Yes, I do. I’ve never done it any other way. If you write in bits, you lose some kind of very valuable continuity of form. It is an invisible inner continuity. Sometimes you only discover it is there if you are trying to reshape.

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