Lucy Alice Jackson, our Books editor, reviews Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. 


 

Throughout the course of literature, the solitary mind has been a prevalent theme giving us as readers access to the darkest aspects of human nature and the world around us. Enter Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, the first in a dark trilogy centered around a bleak apocalyptic world and the experiences of its few survivors.

Within the scattered and irrational mind of the main character Jimmy, we are told of a society where an intense social divide leads every citizen to either stifling control or rampant chaos depending on their parents’ success. Tensions run high and environmental resources are almost completely gone, reserved for only the elite. Science has progressed immensely to compensate for this, and genetic enhancements and experimentation have become the norm as mankind searches for new novelties alongside breakthroughs. So when a lethal virus wipes out almost the entirety of mankind, Jimmy must face a barren world devoid of the technological security he once had as well as any form of human companionship. Atwood creates a character stumbling on the brink of madness, his thoughts a challenge for the reader to comprehend. His raw despair and anger takes centre stage throughout the narrative, enhanced by Atwood’s rich sensory imagery.

 

Alongside Jimmy, we also encounter the Crakers, a humanoid species reverted to and fixed within a primal state of existence. They flourish in the new world, and in order to survive Jimmy must interact and gain the favour of a form of humanity that is much like his own yet so frustratingly different in their emotional state, traditions and perception. Yet through their interactions with the last of humankind, Jimmy introduces one key element which had been removed from the Crakers’ existence- religion. Inadvertently, through his explanations of the world around them and their origin, Jimmy creates a new form of faith within the species that holds the potential to advance them to the state of mankind prior to the outbreak. This presents us with the question of whether religion is a positive or negative force in society. Does it provide drive and meaning, or does it only hinder us? Would we eliminate it if given the chance? Can we eliminate it at all? Atwood leaves this concept open to the reader’s interpretation.

Atwood’s novels have always been a source of inspiration and intrigue for me, her powerful writing only adding to the vibrant worlds and characters which she creates. The character of Jimmy is a being of moral greys, simultaneously likeable and detestable, and to this day I am still unclear as to what her true intentions were behind this characterisation. I would urge however, that one should not read the trilogy out of order as this may present numerous plot holes and unfamiliar terms to the reader.

Overall, Oryx and Crake examines the relationship between man and nature, and through engaging prose provides us with an image of society which we are invited to scrutinise and question. It shows us that even the best intentions can lead someone to commit acts of unspeakable horror, a concept which is proved time and time again, shattering the concept of an achievable utopia. Atwood’s trilogy serves as a dark reminder of the nature of humanity and a warning against excessive ambition.

 

Lucy Alice Jackson