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And our futuristic June Book of the Month is...ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood (discussion Tue 30 June)

(39 Posts)
TillyBookClub Wed 27-May-09 10:36:43

Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted ORYX AND CRAKE is the clear winner of our June Book of the Month poll, with THE ROAD in second place.

We'll be chatting about ORYX AND CRAKE on Tuesday 30 June from 8pm to 10pm. Hope you can join us!

Don't forget you can order your copy here

And, for anyone who missed out on the vote here were June's book choices and this is how Book Club works.

Bagabee Tue 30-Jun-09 23:39:49

Just seen this post re whether the outcome would have been different had Crake been a woman! Has made me wonder whether there is a feminist line from Atwood on this, drawing a parallel between Snowman and Crake's pathetic teenage antics, with the mess made of everything (literally!) as they grow older. Boys and their toys - playing at God etc. Not read whole book but am assuming they reak destruction on the planet as adults. In THT, there are some complicit women, but it's certainly a man's world. The only female character I've come across so far in O&C is Snowman's mother, and she seems to be someone who has seen the truth about is was happening, and wants to escape/do something about it. Put it this way, if Crake was a mother, doubt the outcome would have been the same!

WibblyPigRocks Tue 30-Jun-09 21:54:48

Definitely agree, Tilly - wish we could have discussed this in RL! There's so much to talk about - the loose ends, the morals, the use of language, the issues...

I think the one thing I'll take away from tonight and reading this book is the discussion of science v language/creativity etc - or rather, how we should be making them work together.

This has been a fab book and discussion - thanks Tilly and all!!

whistlejacket Tue 30-Jun-09 21:53:06

Thanks again Tilly, oh no I'm going to have to choose some books myself to read for the next few months! Summer Reading thread sounds good will post some ideas when it's up. Haven't read any other Margaret Atwood so will read The Handmaidens Tale now from what I've read on this thread

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Jun-09 21:47:25

I want to do this discussion in RL - there is so much to talk about and I have to go in a minute...

I think the language point is right. I know that Atwood kept holding up science and language as opposite poles (like the universities Crake and Jimmy go to) but they also share many qualities. They are used for good and bad, they can get out of control, they create things, they are tools for civilisation.

whistlejacket, I think Crake was supposed to be a neutral scientist, devoid of emotion and creating the Crakers purely from the logical need to improve the human race before we became extinct from overpopulation. But then he suddenly turns very strange and kills everyone. Presumably he wanted to hurry the extinct bit up a little.

Thanks everyone for a great evening. Bookclub is on holiday for July and August, and then back again in September. A Summer Reading thread will be up soon - please send us your nominations for the best sunshine page-turner...

fruitbowl Tue 30-Jun-09 21:42:24

Hello, not done book club before but this one caught my eye. just wanted to say that I started reading this in 2004 when I was expecting my DD and I agree with Whistlejacket, I found it so disturbing, bleak and depressing in my pg state, I had to stop reading! You lot have inspired me to go back to it so thanks. Will try and comment when I have actually read whole books next time!

whistlejacket Tue 30-Jun-09 21:38:42

WibblyPig - maybe Snowman won't explain anything to the Crakers and continue with his myths. He'll probably shoot anyone else who comes near the Crakers and threatens them. They've already started worshipping him so maybe he'll be happy for that to continue and for him, Oryx and Crake to become embodied in some form of Craker religion.

WibblyPigRocks Tue 30-Jun-09 21:21:50

That interview extract is interesting. I think that we will end up using these tools well in many cases but inevitably, we will use them badly at times, too. I don't think we will ever be entirely good or evil, as it were.

Two other things from me before I head off for a bit - firstly, Tilly asked about the myths Snowman tells the children of Crake. These myths are told to protect them, as well as control them. If they were as simply as Crake believed them to be, it would seem that these myths were for the best. However, when they start to show 'symbolic thinking' at the end, I wonder whether these children are starting to grow up. If they are becoming more capable of dealing with complex thought, they perhaps they should be told the truth. The people of the beach might threaten them so, would they be better protected if they knew the truth?

With our own children, we might use stories, myths or just simplified versions of truth to explain certain events, but as they get older this becomes unfair and to continue doing so would mean they were ill-prepared for the adult world. We are not wrong to protect them as children, but we would be wrong to prevent them being able to grow up.

Of course, this brings us to the difficulty of how Snowman would explain these things. He makes it clear throughout the novel how much language has been lost. What did people think about the chapter headings? With one word from each chapter used to define meaning, I felt that this was challenging our use of words to define the world around us. This is reflected in the way that Crake and Snowman redefine themselves by choosing different names. Does language define who we are?

whistlejacket Tue 30-Jun-09 21:12:18

Agree about the Oryx paedophile story - almost stopped reading the book at that point as I was reading it before going to sleep and then not sleeping very well!

That paragraph from the interview is interesting because O&C paints a world where morality has vanished: executions, no control over genetic engineering, TV stations / internet showing anything they want, social segregation into compounds and plebelands. The science bit could probably be achieved now if it were allowed but thankfully morality hasn't left the human heart (for the majority).

If Crake was so destructive, why did he create the Crakers? Was it part of his God complex and he wanted them to replace the human race? Interesting that their lives were more similar to how humans lived thousands of years ago than now.

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Jun-09 20:59:04

picnickins, I couldn't stomach the paedophile episode either. In fact I skip-read through Oryx's back story. I wonder now whether Atwood used it as a device to show how morality was under serious siege from technology (the web such vital tool in the progression of the worst crime).

whistlejacket, YES, I agree, where was the denouement/showdown/explanation? It made me feel Crake was a saddo geek who had done the futuristic equivalent of taking shotgun into his school. There was no motivation apart from a God complex and a lack of normal human relationships.

RE the pessimistic world view, in the interview on the website I found this extract:

Please don't make the mistake of thinking that Oryx and Crake is anti-science. Science is a way of knowing, and a tool. Like all ways of knowing and tools, it can be turned to bad uses. But it is not in itself bad. The driving force in the world today is the human heart — that is, human emotions. Hate, not bombs, destroys cities. Desire, not bricks, rebuilds them. Do we as a species have the emotional maturity and the wisdom to use our powerful tools well? Hands up, all who think the answer is Yes.

So, who thinks we will end up using tools well, and who thinks we are destined for disaster?

WibblyPigRocks Tue 30-Jun-09 20:58:34

Although in some ways, Atwood's use of a male character for the position of Crake suggests that only a man would lack the maternal instinct and care to attack the human race in this way, I think that's a bit too simplistic.

I think Crake's scientific approach to humanity was far more damning. Crake didn't consider emotional or mental welfare in his work, he didn't consider the moral minefield of his work and he actively sought to remove the elements of human nature that are about the soul - emotions, literature, creativity etc. Perhaps feminist readers might interpret this as a typically male characteristic, but I don't think that's true. Besides, Snowman is trying to retain this 'soul' as he struggles to remember words and literature and he is definitely male!

I agree with you, whistlejacket, that Crake was killed off too quickly - and Oryx, too. I know Atwood likes to leave us thinking but a bit more info would have been good.

I suspect Snowman would have killed the people at the end, too. He seemed to develop that animalistic desire to protect his 'young', which might be a positive thing in many ways but also suggests that it is human nature to kill or be killed and that we are not so different from animals as we would like to think.

whistlejacket Tue 30-Jun-09 20:41:49

I can't say I enjoyed reading this book, I found it quite bleak and depressing. That said, I also thought it was extremely well written and imaginative. I felt I could really understand the world Atwood created. Maybe I found it slightly depressing because there were too many things that resonate with the negative aspects of today's society - I found myself hoping the future wouldn't be like that!

Did anyone think Crake was killed off too quickly? I thought Jimmy was quick to shoot him and I would have liked to have read a confrontation between the two about why Crake did what he did. It was a light copout I think because I would have liked to have understood more of his motivation. Tilly - I guess he was a psychopath although we don't really see how he interacts with many people other than Jimmy. I agree that Oryx was not a very interesting character, especially after the build up she's given.

As for the ending I think Snowman would have killed the people because he seemed to feel threatened by everything around him. Who were they and how did they survive? Were they the 3 who were in Paradice with him?

WibblyPigRocks Tue 30-Jun-09 20:41:00

I agree with many of the comparisons with THT - I also thought that O&C was less 'emotional' and that was possibly because it had a male protagonist.

Snowman/Jimmy's relationships were not deep, meaningful ones. Even the so-called 'romantic interest' (Oryx), was so sexualised, it was hard to see their relationship as particularly loving. The way her character was first introduced to Jimmy - through a paedophile website - was too uncomfortable for me. I'm not sure why Atwood used this - what effect would a different type of website have had? Why was Oryx's youth important? Of course, there was also the question of whether their relationship was orchestrated by Crake anyway.

As an aside, this contrasts with the relationships in THT which, although some are obviously very sexual, develop into emotional relationships much more convincingly.

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Jun-09 20:24:05

Bagabee, I haven't read THT, but I was wondering how different the book would be if either Snowman or Crake had been female. Or both of them.

Would a woman have ever acted the way Crake did, played God the way he did?

Pinickins Tue 30-Jun-09 20:22:10

I thought she was spot on re: the way the young boys (..and perhaps men who should know better e.g. my DH!) spend their time (porn, internet, gaming etc) but she imagined how this would evolve in the future.

grandmabet Tue 30-Jun-09 20:21:58

Yes, I think you're spot on - I did not find an emotional core in any of the characters and the way things are going now in the world it all seemed a bit childish. I was intereted in the post which actually had this book in the same sentence with Brave New World. I really loved that many years ago - maybe read that again to see what impact that has now. I thought it was all too clever and trying to be witty, which is fine as long as there's something serious to hang it all on to.

Bagabee Tue 30-Jun-09 20:20:57

Make that puerile!
Agree much of the book, written in 2003, is frighteningly prophetic - it's scary how spot on many of her nightmare scenarios are (swine flu, GM etc.) - as with THT. A Cassandra we ignore at our peril!

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Jun-09 20:16:08

grandmabet, am interested about second time round. Do you think its because the comparisons and the clever brand names etc lose their impact and there isn't much of an emotional core to the actual characters?

Sometimes Tom Stoppard gets hauled up for being too clever-witty and not emotional. Although I think Atwood is both witty and emotional, I did feel that this book relied on jokes not feelings.

Bagabee Tue 30-Jun-09 20:13:57

Have not yet finished the book, thanks to six month old ds' demands!, but love the way, as with THT, Atwood uses the futuristic setting to throw into relief the basic human responses that are common to us all. In THT, loved the challenge it threw to the reader in terms of how they would respond - and am hoping O&C will do the same. Do others agree or is this wide of the mark? Having said that, am finding many of Crake's memories very purile - but perhaps that's how blokes think and Atwood's got it spot on!

Pinickins Tue 30-Jun-09 20:08:06

Agree with you granmabet - I could see so much of what is going on around us in the book - swine flu etc etc and I think this added to my enjoyment of the novel. Yes, strange that it was written in 2003 - Attwood surely must see have realised the way things were going....

Pinickins Tue 30-Jun-09 20:05:11

Just wanted to start off by saying that I'm new to Book Club and was a bit dubious on the book choice, thinking that I don't usually read this kind of thing, (..which was exactly why I wanted to join book club - to shake things up a bit!) but loved it. Looking forward to discussion.

grandmabet Tue 30-Jun-09 20:01:01

Well, reading the comments posted so far, it seems I might be the only one who did not like this book. However, when I first read it in 2003, on publication, I remember thinking what a fantastic read it was. Second time around I found it pretty puerile and skipped large parts of it. I wonder if our enjoyment of a book is influenced by world events as much as those in our personal like. 2003 was a very different Britain from that in 2009 - maybe that's why I found this book so unbelievable now.

TillyBookClub Tue 30-Jun-09 20:00:34

Evening everyone

There is so much to discuss on this book I'm uncertain where to start. Here is a scattergun (should that be spraygun) approach to kick off with:

Do we think Crake is a psychopath who could have existed at any age, or did that environment make him a very particular killer?

I wasn't convinced by character of Oryx - she was the weakest link for me, a sort of plot device to bring about the destruction that Crake obviously was hovering around but hadn't yet performed. Did you believe in the love story?

The trick I loved was Atwood taking some issue of the present - YouTube, reality TV, shopping malls - and spinning it forward. The game Blood and Roses or the Noodie News: it was brilliantly imagined. I could see some TV execs thinking the nightie-nite Suicide programme might be a goer. She wrote the book in 2001/2: I wonder if she thinks it is eerie how much closer we've come to her vision?

And the ending....well, my guess is that he killed them. Or tried to. Because he was protecting something very like a child. But it was a very clever reduction, from all the technology and sophistication of civilisation to one human wondering whether to bash another one, in case they get bashed first. Humans will always be human, whatever the environment. When the Crakers have to sing and dream, because its 'hard-wired' i wondered if there were any other things you'd add to that list: worship seems to be one.

Speaking of which, do you think the creation myths he tells the Crakers are comforting to them? Should he have just told them the truth? It reminded me of answering Why questions from my 3 year old - that you get tangled up in knots trying to make things simple and essentially happy/good.

Dior Mon 29-Jun-09 22:49:15

This is one of my favourite reads in the last few years. MA can write either wonderful or terrible books. I have read several of each! This one blew me away - it was nothing like anything else I had ever read.

squilly Mon 29-Jun-09 22:29:24

Oh...I loved Cloud Atlas! I'm a real sci-fi (well more fantasy) fan and I just loved the way it knitted together at the end. It was a bit weak on the future bit though, you're right, but not weak enough for me to have disliked it.

I have to say that though I like Oryx and Crake, I did prefer Cloud Atlas and I enjoyed Aldous Huxley's Brave New World even more. Having said that, there wasn't a lot between the three books for me, though clearly, they're all quite different visions of the future.

jkklpu Mon 29-Jun-09 21:24:38

Have a real soft spot for O&C because it was one of the many novels I read in the last few weeks waiting for the arrival of ds1. And I happen to have read it straight after Cloud Atlas, which I REALLY hated for lots of reasons. And O&C vindicated one of those as it was a million times better than the futuristic section of Cloud Atlas. I'm not a sci-fi fan, but thought this was excellent.

Enjoy the discussion.

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