Oryx and Crake

Posted February 5, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 9 Comments

Covers like this make it hard to read books at school during my lunch break.

Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
Random House
Audiobook from Public Library
Print copy purchased from used book store
[#12 in my 75 Book Challenge]

Well, I finally finished it after three years of wanting to read it.

This is a hard book to give a summary for. First and foremost, it’s all over the place. The story is told in flashback, with Snowman living in a post-apocalyptic world. The reader then experiences the events that have led up to this apocalypse, including his friendship with Crake and his romantic obsession with Oryx. It’s a futuristic book about biological and genetic engineering taken to extremes, and mankind’s desire to be flawless and immortal. I know my summary sucks, so you can check out what the folk on Goodreads have to say about it — their descriptions are far superior to my own.

Beyond my description, I can’t tell you much because I was lost half the time. This is because the story is written in Atwood’s trademark style, shifting between past and present and future, but also because I just wasn’t getting into the story. My mind was elsewhere. I think I actually got more than I thought out of it, because the story is intentionally designed to confuse.

I think I would need a second read to enjoy the novel, now that I knew where it was going. It also needs to be read in print. The audio version was just too much for my inferior aural senses. The themes and questions posed by the novel are intense enough to warrant a re-read (a few years from now) and some discussion with other folks who have read it. Atwood’s imagination is endless and her writing is spectacular. I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Handmaid’s Tale was/is one of my favorite books, so I was sorely disappointed to find myself trudging to get through Oryx and Crake after so many people had recommended it to me. The Handmaid’s Tale is a better book, and I think many people would agree with me on that. Atwood certainly paints an ugly picture of the future and human nature in Oryx and Crake, one that bummed me out quite a bit. I also felt the characters were not as dynamic as I would have liked, and all felt unnatural or unrealistic to me (too cynical, too fixated, too disconnected).

Final Grade:   C   I would have given this a D for my particular reading experience (it was miserable), but I recognize that this has nothing to do with Atwood’s writing and story. This is very literary fiction, that is obvious, so I don’t want to disgrace it with a low grade just because I failed to concentrate on it. I might try reading In The Year of the Flood, since that’s the book I really wanted to read and I hear it’s much better. Time will tell.

Also, this is not a YA book. So I won’t be purchasing it for the kiddos. A high school library might have a place for it, since many schools read The Handmaid’s Tale. But there’s no place for it in my middle school collection (those of you that know the book say, “duh,” but I wanted to make it clear — this was a personal read, not a professional one).


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

Tags: , , , , /// 9 Comments

9 responses to “Oryx and Crake

  1. I completely agree. I loved Handmaid’s Tale, so when I had to read Oryx and Crake in my Freshman writing seminar in college, I was psyched. That excitement quickly turned to dismay, especially once I remembered that I would have to write a coherent and insightful paper on it!

    It is one of those books that is on my re-read list. Unfortunately, there are so many books that I have yet to read once…

  2. I read Oryx and Crake for Book Club. I wouldn’t have bothered to finish it otherwise. Some Club members loved it, some didn’t like it, some refused to finish reading it!

  3. I sort of liked this book, up until the ending. I found that it just left it hanging, instead of giving the reader (and I guess the characters) any closure.

    A brilliant book that I read before Oryx and Crake was ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell. Now that seems like it’s all over the place, but it all comes together and is really fantastic!

  4. Thank you for such a thoughtful review, I have often waffled over whether or not to read this book. The premise seems interesting. Though I acknowledge how well-written and plotted The Handmaid’s Tale is, I hate it for the same reasons you seem to have found this book less than enjoyable.

  5. I’m sorry that you didn’t love this book, but your observations are completely accurate, and I can totally understand not thoroughly enjoying this one. I liked that it showed what a dystopian society would look like after falling apart, but you’re right, it’s not as good as The Handmaid’s Tale.

  6. Miss Anderson, thank you for forcing your way through Orxy and Crake! I suspect Miss Atwood deliverately made the characters fixated and cynical and unreal to properly reflect their post-apocalytic evolution through genetic engineering. However, I know that did not make it easier to read. Are you familiar with another post-apocalytic series, The Hunger Series? Our church youth leader has the high school members passing around copies of various volumes in this series.

  7. That’s a really good point that this book is meant to only be half-understood. That helps me to feel a little better about my experience of reading it. I recommended Atwood highly to a teacher I worked with and she ended up choosing this for a class of freshman to read. It was quite a slog for all of us, so I felt bad. However, they did seem to enjoy it more once we did some work together on laying out timelines/themes/etc… It’s almost like it’s a book that is actually enhanced by all the trappings of reading it for a class. I think your grade is fair, though, and I agree that middle schoolers wouldn’t really enjoy this one. Have you read The Robber Bridegroom? Another famous Atwood and the one I liked the best back when I first read it.

Leave a Reply