For some reason I’ve never really read any of Atwood’s books. I read the Handmaid’s Tale at school and I remember enjoying it but have pretty much ignored her since. Perhaps it’s a hangover from being ‘forced’ to read an author. A shame really because I found myself enjoying Oryx and Crake as well.
Set in the not too distant future, it is a world where genetic modification is running wild and global warming is having a marked effect on the environment. Science companies house their employees in protected bio-dome compounds and unleash engineered viruses to sabotage each other’s genetic work. It follows the story of Jimmy, now known as Snowman, as he grows up and how he has become the guardian of a group of genetically engineered people called the Crakers. It is told mostly in flashback as Snowman makes his way back to the compound he shared with Oryx and Crake for supplies. Crake is Snowman’s childhood friend (perhaps his only friend) who goes on to become an important geneticist for one of the top companies while Snowman languishes in mediocrity. Oryx is the beautiful woman they both come to love.
As the flashbacks go on the story of Jimmy’s early life, how he became Snowman and almost the sole survivor of some terrible disaster is revealed. How he met Crake, the internet games they played, the porn and snuff sites they watched together, Snowman’s struggle with the disappearance of his mother and her subsequent ‘treason’ and execution, Crake’s rise to the top, Snowman’s disappointing adult life while watching Crake’s success, Crake’s plan to save humanity with his BlyssPluss pill and his devastating revenge when he discovers Oryx and Snowman’s affair.
The Crakers themselves are bred to be perfect beings with no conception of what Crake believes to be mankind’s problems, mainly sex. They have no conception of the love, jealousy, anger or longing that sex generates as the women are engineered to come into heat, mimicking mammals in the wild and have been taught to live off the land by Oryx, protected from the harsh environment the Earth has become by their augmented digestive systems and natural insect repellants bred into their perspiration . They have been left in Snowman’s care by Crake even though Snowman considered himself unequal to the task and looks after them as best he can, telling them stories of how Crake created them and building a mythos around him, saying he receives messages from him through his watch. It is ironic that despite all of Crake’s scientific posturing and dismissal of emotions all through the book he unleashes the end of the world because he cannot bear the thought of the woman he loves being with someone else, leaving that someone to look after his creation as a final revenge.
This book kept me hooked all the way through, the pace slow to start with and building all the way to the end. As each flashback section ended I kept thinking “but what happened?!” each flashback giving a tantalising glimpse of what was coming but never quite revealing it. The ‘realtime’ sections were a nice contrast as well, the sorry state Snowman finds himself in but dealing with it and carrying on for the love of Oryx. He laments the fact that even though the Crakers have no concept of religion they revere Crake as the creator, Oryx the teacher and Snowman only their messenger but he is shocked to find on his return from the compound that they have made an idol of him and are chanting before it ‘to guide him home’ and he realises he is important to them as well. The very end, when the Crakers tell him there are other people have appeared while he has been away hangs in the balance. Will Snowman abandon the Crakers for his own kind or protect them?
Rating – It’s a great read and all too plausible, especially as when I was halfway through it I read a news story that the go-ahead had been given for tests to take place using wheat that has been engineered to produce its own pesticides. 4/5