Saturday, 24 March 2007

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This is one of Margaret Atwood’s latest novels, short-listed for the Orange prize in 2004 and the Booker prize in 2003, she having written 10 novels before this. I have only read one other ‘The blind assassin’, which I rate extremely highly, as I do this. I would not like to compare and choose between them, for they are very different.

‘Oryx and Crake’ is a dystopia. The author has evidently taken many cutting from newspapers and magazines to weave together facts and to stimulate her imagination about possible ghastly futures. The main thread is about genetic engineering, and it seems horribly plausible. The links to current news stories was highlighted today as I heard the radio talking about scientists applying to use human DNA injected into cow cells – or something like that – to develop stem cells for research. This story takes utopian and over-powerful scientists and their genetic experiments to an apocalyptic extreme; plausible and sobering.

Oryx is the nickname of an Asian girl used in the sex industry and discovered by the main character on the internet. Crake is his friend, and brilliant scientist, who creates a new race of ‘children’. Things spin out of control, but the denouement is brilliantly crescendoed. The book starts after everything has gone wrong, with civilization as we know it gone, and the climate radically changed. Through time shifts the past events are brought closer to the present to explain why things are as they are. Only later do we realise what a ‘Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail sausage’ is.

This is a deeply disturbing and relevant book. It literally kept me awake at night and invaded my jet-lagged dreams.

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