Let’s face it, Oryx and Crake is not a book you’d read for the plot. I mean, it’s there, vaguely. Mankind wiped from the world, a new species there to take its place. It is a story of what leads up to the end of man, and what it means to be alive afterwards.
I am a post-apocalyptic junkie. I love stories of devastation and chaos, of struggle and despair. And there is enough in Snowman’s story to fulfil that desire for me. He is a man alone, in a world that no longer fits him, that he has a hard time surviving in. But it becomes clear that the world itself has no changed. Instead it is the absence of a society that cushioned and contained them all. Gone are the climate controlled homes, the mass produced food, the image of security.
But what the world became was secondary to what the world had been. And this, with my love of deep thought, is where my enjoyment of the book lay. There are questions that Atwood gives a particular version of answer to in this first book of the MaddAddam trilogy.
What happens to a world overpopulated with dwindling resources?
- Is genetically created food substances a solution?
- Do people become chattel?
- Is sterilisation and population control the only answer?
What happens when sexual and government violence becomes normalised?
- Do we always search for a greater thrill?
- Is violence then entertainment?
There aren’t answers to these ideas in the book, this isn’t a moral telling. There are no solutions, no heroic journey to enlightenment. What makes it so stark and disturbing to me is how normal it seemed to those living it. How slowly we as a society lose our inhibitions, lose the shock until it becomes blasé.
Did I care about Snowman, Crake and Oryx? No not especially. I didn’t even really care what the cataclysm turned out to be, and only had a passing interest in Snowman’s survival in the world afterwards. But what caught and held my attention were the lives of rather mundane people surviving in a world where the harsh desolate reality was viewed as the norm. Snowman, or Jimmy as he was back then was just a regular person, neither a hero or a villain. And it was his averageness that contributed to the normality of the horrible.