I’m continuing to make my way through Andi’s Reading Through the Stacks Challenge even though I’m not fully sure if she is even still participating, but that’s okay because her challenge is similar in nature enough to Emily’s challenge to read the books you already own, but with Emily’s there are rules like choosing in (sort of) advance the books you will read, and not purchasing any more books while participating in the challenge (I think). In my own way I’ve been participating in a hybrid of the two challenges, and between trips to the library and book store I’ve been reading through the books I already own – I’ve been going room by room since there isn’t a room in the house that doesn’t have a towering stack of unread books in it. As I read the books the goal is to move them from whatever room they’ve been squatting in to our book room. Yes, we have a book room. Eventually the book room will be a third floor bathroom and the books will go in bookcases but that time is not now and so we have a room (more like a large closet) specifically for our books. I’ll take a picture at some point during this challenge to show you.
So. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. God. Reading this book was like acting in a Beckett play – specifically, Krapp’s Last Tape. What a freaking lonely journey, for both the Snowman (the narrator) and the reader. I was excited to finally settle down with this book because (a.) A. lent it to me and we possess a shared adoration of Margaret Atwood that is long and wide, and (b.) I have a particular fondness for end-of-the-world literature and (c.) The Year of the Flood has received such good reviews I’m anxious to read it but felt I should read Oryx and Crake first.
First of all, this is an excellent novel in terms of plot, structure, characterization and writing. We all know Atwood is a master of her craft and every book of hers that I’ve read has kept me turning the pages until the very end, eager and in love with her words, her characters, her world. Everything she writes feels so real – so possible – and yet fantastical at the same time. That said, this was not an enjoyable reading experience for me in any way. To be fair, I don’t think it is supposed to be, but I found Atwood’s post-biological virus world disconcerting – the story slipped into my subconscious during dreams and woke me up, sweating. I’ve relished other end of the world novels – The Stand, by Stephen King, Swan Song by Robert McCammon and The Road by Cormac McCarthy – and it took me about halfway through the book to understand why those visions and constructs didn’t bother me as much as Atwood’s book – those books have survivors, emphasis on the plural. Atwood’s book features (for the most part) The Snowman as, as far as we know, the only human survivor of the biological whats-it, and his journey is by far one of the loneliest and saddest that I’ve read. Other fiction with similar premise often work under the illusion that the horror and destruction of a biological or even nuclear holocaust work to serve a higher purpose – a moral cleansing of the world, so to speak – but Atwood creates no such illusions. Furthermore, the world she creates before the end – a world of eating endlessly genetically modified foods, of endless rains, of cities and countryside destroyed by human greed – is so utterly bleak it doesn’t serve as much of a juxtaposition or relief for the reader.
Oryx and Crake is a book I’m glad I read – like the best of its genre, it serves as a warning for what can happen if we continue to recklessly abuse our natural and not-so-natural resources – but it’s a book I wish I’d read for school or as part of a book club, or something. The Snowman’s journey, both in his life before, and his life after, is a terribly isolating, lonely one and as a reader, I think my own journey reading it would have been richer if I’d had someone with whom to discuss it. That said, I am sure I will read The Year of the Flood within the year, if only to reassure myself that the Snowman wasn’t entirely alone, however much he thought he was.