27 Oct 2013

Oryx & Crake

I’ve almost come to the end of my readathon; four books in four days. While Sanders is staying I can’t focus on my own writing (there’s always an excuse!) and when I let myself down into one of these bulimic guzzles of new-to-me novels I definitely can’t write so it seems like a good moment. I say  ‘bulimic’ because they are usually the books I forget just as quickly, whilst remembering enough of their atmosphere to avoid reading them again, even if I can see they have literary merit. I’ve yet to isolate the formula that causes a book to splice with my hippocampi (I looked that up - it’s the bit of the brain that stores memory, for those who like me had only half stored that information.)

This morning I finished ‘Oryx & Crake’ by Margaret Atwood. She’s released the third of the trilogy that started with this after-the-disaster romp. She was described in the Literary Review as ‘One of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive’ which is a worthy accolade but also the reason I stopped reading her books years back when I noticed the unpredictability was troubling me too much.  I don’t appreciate unpredictability in the authors I take a shine to. I like to settle in to the cosmology of their creations but in M Atwood’s there are too many worlds I didn’t care to find myself in.’ The Handmaids Tale ‘ notably got so stuck into my brain that I would have rather liked my hippocampi to take a few days off. I have a signed copy of ‘Surfacing’ that I haven’t yet finished several years on because - oh dear - I got bored with it. 

With these in mind, the approach to ‘Oryx & Crake’ was along the ‘should’ path rather than the ‘I’d love to’ road.

I do fear for M A’s psyche. And I do envy it. She has such a facility for imagining future situations and making those imaginings credible by extrapolating from roots visible in present day trends. It must be hard to sleep nights. Or rather, it would be hard for me. I suspect it’s not for MA.

By the third or fourth chapter I liked the geeky survivor He is intelligent but with romantic and sentimental wiring that held him back from pursuing the crazed idealistic ambitions of his genius friend Crake who caused the obliteration of almost the entire human race.  I liked his bumbling clownish attempts to do the right thing; he made me laugh enough to want to ride along with him and hope for his best outcome. 

I’m also a sucker for the fantastic. After I saw Dennis Potter’s ‘Cold Lazurus’ I longed for a future where organic and inorganic materials have been spliced to form intelligent buildings that grow themselves and chairs that mould to the form of the human sitting in them, picking up wish signals from the brains of that human so it moves to where its sitter wills it. Surely this is going to happen one day. In ‘O&C’ there are lots of wild inventions, some sounding acceptable. Also some endearing animal life along with the scary pigoons bred for transplant organs, and chicken blobs that grow the more delectable parts of chickens without actual having any consciousness.  Shudder.

M. Atwood claimed, in an interview, that scientists like her novels because she is the only writer appreciating their work and taking what they do seriously. I might be misquoting a bit here, (have lost the link) but from this I understand that scientists, rather worryingly, admit they have the power to shape the future, for better or for worse.  

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