Oryx and Crake


376 pages
ISBN 0-7710-0868-6
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is the editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


Burdened with the knowledge that he may be the last human on earth,
Snowman, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s eleventh novel,
struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by the
products of genetic modification run amok. There are, among other
mutations, pigoons (a combination of pig and human genes), wolvogs (wolf
and dog), rakunks (rat and skunk), and guileless humanoid creatures
known as the Children of Crake. Snowman’s present-day narrative—
which evokes images of Tom Hanks in Castaway—is intercut with the
story of his past life as Jimmy and the events that precipitated the
unnamed global catastrophe.

Jimmy’s world is an exaggerated, but disconcertingly recognizable,
version of our own. Big business reigns supreme, answerable to nothing
but the profit imperative. The purveyors of unfettered capitalism live
in sterile gated communities, or Compounds, while the excluded have-nots
reside in the chaotic pleeblands. Internet pornography, mood- and
body-altering pharmaceuticals, and websites like hedsoff.com that show
live coverage of executions are mainstays of the relentless

While Jimmy’s father embraces Compound life, his mother rebels
against it, with deadly consequences. Jimmy himself becomes a jaded
advertising hack. At the apex of the Compound food chain is Jimmy’s
brilliant childhood friend, Crake, an updated Frankenstein who engineers
the apocalypse for reasons that are never fully explained. The book’s
least well-defined character is Oryx, a Third World prostitute who
becomes a mysterious fixture in Jimmy’s and Crake’s lives.

Oryx and Crake abounds with suspense and Atwood’s trademark wit, but
its most resonant moments occur when the words and meanings—however
facile—that defined Snowman’s life as an adman remorselessly
evaporate. At one point, he poignantly contemplates the word Mesozoic:
“He can see the word, he can hear the word, but he can’t reach the
word. He can’t attach anything to it. This is happening too much
lately, this dissolution of meaning, the entries on his cherished
wordlists drifting off into space.” The solitary survivor knows that a
debased language is better than no language at all.


Atwood, Margaret., “Oryx and Crake,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17625.