Few novels pack
the same emotional punch as Oryz and Crake. I finished the book feeling
empathising with the pain of he main character Snowman AKA Jimmy.
Snowman lives in a tree, starving, lonely and grieving. He might be the last
normal left in the world. He acts as as sort of father figure to a group of
genetically engineered almost-humans called Crakers after Crake their creator.
The Crakers psychology iand knowledge of their environment are sufficiently
different from homo sapiens that Snowman can never truly be himself with them.
This and his revered status means that even with the Crakers nearby he is as
alone as anyone can be. The Crakers can survive on greens and roots but
Snowman is slowly starving as his food supply dwindles. He has lost all hope
but struggles on anyway partly from a blind desire to survive in spite of
everything and partly to fulfill a promise to Oryx, the one woman he feels he
truly loved, to protect the Crakers.
The story is told as two narratives one set in Snowman’s present, the other a
series of flashbacks. In this way we learn both what Snowman is doing now and
how the world came to be in its present post-apocalyptic state. Atwood handles
this brilliantly and I found myself turning pages wanting to find out what
happened in both time lines. The use of a dual narrative is not gratuitous -
the novel would not have worked without it. If the events had simply been
described in chronological order the second half of the story would have
seemed a let down.
The Crakers are described and used to as a contrast to the behaviour of normal
humans in a world gone awry but as characters they don’t really exist. The
story is really about Jimmy (who became Snowman), Crake and Oryx.
Jimmy grew up in a corporate Compound isolated from the decaying and dangerous
outside world. He is funny, smart and good with words but has difficultly
forming meaningful relationships. As an adult he has lover after lover but
never manages to let any of them get close.
Crake is a genius somewhat aloof from the world. His father died some time
before he meets Jimmy and it’s clear he believes it was murder although it
seems a case of accidental death. At the age of fourteen Crake and Jimmy
become friends and spend their time browsing the man channels available via
the net from scenes of public executions to child porn. Through their viewing
Atwood paints a picture of a world in which society is disintergrating rapidly
and the corporations control everything.
Oryx is an enigmatic woman who may be the same person as the eight year-old
child Jimmy and Crake once saw on a child porn channel after having been sold
by her mother. Of the main characters Oryx is probably the most interesting
although we only ever see her through Jimmy’s eyes.
We never really get into the head of Crake to find out why he acted as he did
(I won’t give details hear it would give away too much of the plot) but
nevertheless all the characters are masterfully described and Atwood does an
excellent job of making the reader think of them as real people.
The novel is a “what if” story of what might happen if science, in particular
genetic engineering gets out of control.