Oryx and Crake is the first novel of Margaret Atwood’s ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy, the second and third novels being The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). was first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction that same year, and for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.
We journey through Attwood’s dystopian future landscape through the eyes of the protagonist named Snowman. Snowman contemplates a future in which he is the last person alive on a dying earth. The book opens with a backdrop of a decaying city scape, Snowman shelters in a tree whilst monstrous hybrids, pigoons and wolvogs, prowl around him and through both the devastated pleeblands and compounds where the elites had once lived and worked.
We learn that Snowman began his story as a young man called Jimmy who grew up in a time of massive technological advancement, he lived a privileged life in the relative safety of the compounds created by the wealthy corporations to keep employees safe from the anarchic pleeblanders. Jimmy watches as the world plunged into disaster at the hands of his friends and his family and their contemporaries.
Later, we watch as Jimmy/Snowman encounters the Crakers – a new race of genetically modified humans, created by Crake. The green-eyed Crakers are human beings that have been have been spliced with various animal traits to make them more durable, adaptable and lack many ‘negative’ human attributes, they retain many unexpected human attributes however and are a statement about the tenacity of human nature.
Against this backdrop runs the love story between Jimmy and Oryx, an ethereal character who originally surfaces as a child prostitute seen by jimmy on a pornographic site, Oryx has relationships with both Jimmy and Crake thus completing the love triangle at the heart of the story.
The plot is complex and the imagery is amazing and consistent, but Oryx and Crake remains a fast paced and easy read, perhaps because it does not contain depths of philosophical subtlety. Instead is a somewhat obvious and stark warning about the trajectory of human development. It warns against playing God in terms of modifying food, animals, the climate and, in fact, humans.
The world that Attwood has created is well thought out, consistent and complex but the novel lacks the and intellectual depths of some of her other novels. So, in conclusion, Oryx and Crake is an enjoyable read, as are the other novels in the trilogy, but not a life or soul changing one.
Reviewed by Zoe Southcott