Friday, June 25, 2010

Seven books behind

So best get cracking, right? I've actually been, well, not swamped exactly, but let's say adequately supplied with work recently. So no time for furtive blogging at all, and I never get to the computer at home. Now I've got mr Bani's laptop (I remember fondly the days when I had my own and could use it ... now it doesn't access the internet, and really, what else are computers for in this day and age? But I digress. I snark, and digress) so will try to to loads here.

One of the books I've got in my pile is a Ngaoi Marsh that's all about morris dancing, which would be great to write about today when we're celebrating midsummer here en Suecia and the whole country happily has danced around the phallic symbol that is the may pole (or midsummer pole or what have you). Since they do morris dancing around may poles, I mean. But that book also has one of the best Ugly Covers ever, and the jpeg of that is on my work computer (naughty naughty!). So I'll save it.

Instead I'll turn to the latest book discussion club novel, one that I plugged hard for: Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. I don't think I'd ever even heard of it, because I don't stay up-to-date with book news at all, but I spotted it in the cheap paper-back section on Bokus or Adlibris and fell for it immediately, what with my recent great Atwood experience with The Blind Assassin and my general hankering for some good sci-fi. So I pushed for it and we chose it.

Oryx and Crake is set in a future where companies that do genetic research are very rich and powerful and separate from the rest of society. They can afford gated communities for their staff and their families and are pretty much a society unto themselves. We get to know Jimmy after society has collapsed, when the only people alive apart from him are "Crake's children", humanoids that we understand are not quite human. Gradually Jimmy reminisces and tells us the story of his life, how he got to know Crake, a scientific genius who was so disillusioned with mankind that he wanted to start over with a new and better species. Now, Jimmy is alone, the sole bearer of the entire planet's history - because the children of Crake know nothing and can't understand if he tries to explain.

In theory this is a great set-up, with ample scope for melancholy and an almost claustrophobic void of loneliness. Sadly I was a little disappointed. The book didn't feel finished. It felt like an experimental science-fiction essay on the potential dangers of genetic manipulation half the time, and the characters were not developed enough for me to really sense them - one idea is that part of Jimmy's aching loneliness after the end of the world is that he has a whole language and no-one to share it with; Jimmy having worked with words all his life. But I don't feel this, I just read that it is so. There is a difference. The novel should have been put away for a few years and then taken out and re-read, because with a little more tweaking it'd be superb. Now it's good, but not more than that. We all enjoyed it as a good story, as entertainment, but it could have been the kind of book that keeps you awake thinking about it.

Oddly, despite a recurring theme of women and children being sexually abused and used - classic Atwood themes that she feels strongly about -  the female characters are the weakest. Oryx, the woman loved by both Jimmy and Crake, is hollow and empty. I wondered for a while if we were to deduce that she wasn't real, but a figment of Jimmy's imagination, but it's not that layered a book. That's disappointing, coming from Margaret Atwood.

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