After reading Oryx and Crake (2003), I’m not as impressed as I was after reading A Handmaid’s Tale last year, but I did enjoy the book. Atwood excels at world creation and pinpointing the dystopian outcomes of our current worst practices. Pigoons, rakunks, ChickieNobs: the words that name things in Jimmy’s world are ridiculous yet completely believable as advertising’s Orwellian legacy. Jimmy’s first encounter with ChickieNobs reminds me of the episode of the televised version of This American Life where they visit a modernized pig farm. Bioforms, environmental disaster…In Handmaid, the world ended in the ice of religious repression; here it ends in the fires of contagion.
Nonetheless, and while all of this extrapolation seems an accurate enough indictment, the book also lacks the sense of threat and dread of the earlier novel. Some of the problem may be the pacing: the last third of the novel reads like Atwood suddenly decided she needed to wrap things up after a leisurely review of Jimmy’s youth and his situation with the Crakers. But I suspect also it is a matter of style and perspective. The ironic knowingness that pervades Jimmy’s world and its portrayal doesn’t work as well as the enforced ignorance of Offred that lends suspense and suspicion to the earlier work. Atwood tries to get those things back through the structure that demands we read to find out what happened to transform the world from Jimmy’s to Snowman’s, but the warmth generated is more that of calisthenics than the main event. Still, that is invigorating in its own way, enough to make me want to continue on with The Year of the Flood when I get a chance.