3 July 2016

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

In the days when I used to write a book blog, I participated a couple of times in the Canadian Book Challenge hosted by The Book Mine Set, and I have decided to participate again this year.  The challenge is to read and review 13 Canadian books between July 1 (Canada Day) and June 30.  Given the reality of my schedule, I am going to try to get a head-start over the next couple of months before my final year of my M.Div. begins in September.  Why have I decided to participate again?  I am a bookworm; I love to read; and yet I've found that with full-time studies, I haven't made enough time to read "fun" books, and I need some more CanLit in my life!

I finished The Heart Goes Last this afternoon.  It's Margaret Atwood - what more can I say!  She does a fabulous job of world-building in her books, and that was what grabbed me most in this one.  It is set in a dystopian future, but not a post-apocalyptic world.  Like in her MaddAdam trilogy, the future situation creeps up gradually and there are many connections between the world that Atwood paints and our current world situation.  An Atwood Dystopian Future tends to be creepier than others in the genre, as I can see her world coming to pass.

The plot in this book is a twist on the usual dystopian plot.  The main characters, Charmaine and Stan, are living in a near-future America that has been decimated by market collapse, homelessness, and violence.  They have lost their home and are living in a car, trying to survive from one day to the next (not a spoiler - this is revealed in the first chapter).  They are offered a utopian alternative to their dystopian present and jump at the opportunity; but the so-called utopia gradually reveals itself to be even more dystopian than the dystopia that they had escaped.

As far as the characters go, I'm not yet sure how I feel.  Charmaine and Stan both felt very flat to me as a reader - they had no depth of character and tended to live their lives reactively.  The chapters alternate between their perspectives, and I did get a bit bored by the shallowness of their views.  I was much more taken by the secondary characters - I would love to get into Connor's head (Stan's brother), or especially Jocelyn's head (one of the leaders in the so-called utopia).  I suspect that this was a deliberate device - allowing the reader to to experience the plot unfolding from the perspective of a pair of very passive characters.  While I did enjoy the opportunity to try and guess what was going on ahead of Stan and Charmaine, I did get tired of their passivity.

Overall, it was a good book - I don't think that Margaret Atwood has ever written a book that I didn't enjoy.  It's not my favourite of her books, but that is like saying that Beethoven's 7th Symphony isn't my favourite of his symphonies.  The lesser work of a genius is genius nonetheless!  Will I re-read it at some point?  Maybe - I'm not giving away my copy of this book yet.

(Book 1 of 13 in the Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set)

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