“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

The book begins in the middle of the story. We find the miserable Snowman, driven dangerously close to the borderlines of sanity by his desparation over the gloomy hopelessness of the situation. Snowman is alone – well, except for the Children of Crake, but are they even human? They look human, they even speak; but they don’t question, they don’t imagine, they don’t desire. So who are they? Snowman knows. In fact, he is the only one left who does.

Before presenting himself to the Crakers as Snowman, he was Jimmy. He was young, and talented in many ways, just not in the ways that matter in the future society that Atwood visions for us – governed by corporations, empowered by bioengineering, supported by consumerism. Jimmy was not amibitous enough, a word person, not a numbers person, in contrast to his best (and only) friend Crake who excelled at every subject in school though completely lacking social skills. Otherwise, Jimmy and Crake were much alike, enjoying obscure computer games, weed and child porn – the standard entertainment for teenage boys. They debated over school, politics, the future of mankind. The only thing they never spoke about was the very young girl with the penetrable eyes on one of the porn sites.

Crake ends up as a brilliant scientist in charge of his own team, leading an extensive project in the pharmaceutical industry, while Jimmy works as an advertisement guru for a whatever-company while half-enjoying his hedonist life. When Crake shows up at his door to offer him a job at Crake’s own project, Jimmy accepts with pleasure. He is introduced to the official part – a medicine that would cure the world from famine and wars, at the same time causing the consumer’s sexual potential to soar; for war, according to Crake, is nothing but misplaced sexual energy. The consumer doesn’t need to know that the hidden effect of BlyssPluss is sterilization…

Moreover, the secret part of Crake’s project, Paradice, is designing the perfect mankind by means of gene engineering – reduce the human mind back to its natural state, getting rid of imperfections that led mankind to  violence and destruction, such as symbolic thinking (-> religion -> hierarchy -> slavery), mortality (defined by Crake as „knowledge and fear of death“), agriculture (->posession -> inequality) and even falling in love, as the Crakers reproduce seasonally like most mammals, and are polygamous.

Fascinated by the project, Jimmy is assigned as responsible for the ad campaign. Being a part of the insanely wealthy company, he finds himself overnight surrounded by all the luxury. What he doesn’t expect to find is the young girl from long ago, now a beautiful woman by the name of Oryx, who is employed and (to Jimmy’s torment) loved by Crake. With a strong feeling of guilt for betraying Crake but unable to resist Oryx, Jimmy becomes her lover. But Crake knows. Doesn’t he?

The story culminates as another disasterous hidden effect of BlyssPluss is revealed – it’s lethal. As the world outside is quickly and horrendously perishing, Jimmy, Crake and Oryx are safely locked in in the inner parts of the complex, and the shocked Jimmy confronts Crake. Crake kills Oryx. Jimmy kills Crake.

So now it’s just Snowman and the Crakers. Whether or not he sees the purpose of it (he doesn’t), he has promised to take care of them. Constantly haunted by unanswered questions and Oryx’s voice, Snowman leads them to a safe place, watches over them and teaches them. Alone and desperate.

Then something happens. Other survivors appear. As Jimmy decides how to approach them (greet them with arms wide open? Or kill them?) …

… the book ends.

The story is grasping, ingenious, touching. But it’s the background that Atwood has created that really gets to me. It’s distressingly familiar. Corporations stronger than governments, profit and success-driven educational system, lobbying as the most valued function of “word people”, food production in the hands of companies not people… It’s here, and I’m not looking forward to seeing where it takes us.

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Published in: on 5. sept. 2010 at 22:38  Lisa kommentaar  

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