Notes Reading Notes

Oryx and Crake

By Margaret Atwood, 2003

Where the whole ‘speculative fiction’ thing began. Ambitious and creepily prescient.

Critics have noted a general ‘silliness’. I don’t agree. I interpreted this as an astute reading of the emerging culture of internet meme sharing. Oryx and Crake was written just before the emergence of Reddit and YouTube, and picks up the cultural shift near perfectly (a future of loneliness, social isolation, and flashing devices, where people no longer watch TV, they sit around a screen sharing web videos).

One obvious criticism is that the weird creepy love/friendship story is too emotionally shallow, or else acts as a framing for the environmental tragedy and dystopian themes rather than investing the reader in more rounded characters. I wasn’t sure about this on my first reading. I wondered whether the lack of emotional depth actually reflected the nature of life in the walled compound. In short, that these characters feel and express the limited range of emotions that people are able to feel for one another in such a technoscientific corporate society (bordering on fascism, but not an authoritarian dictatorship except to the extent that the ruling class are actively using force to maintain the status quo—much like our neoliberal reality today), and this emotional distance is actually an effect which brings us closer to understanding the world of the novel. The recent public scaremongering over ‘rising narcicism’ in the younger generations reinforces this. People are looking for prosaic drama, and the reality of this book is perhaps something more clever.