by Aimee Burton - May 8th, 2011
I’m reading Oryx and Crake at the moment. Margaret Atwood is quite possibly in my top 5 favourite authors of all time (I count The Blind Assassin as my most cherished of her works so far, though I have the highest admiration for The Handmaid’s Tale and will be reading The Robber Bride next), but I am feeling thoroughly depressed by this latest grim dystopian.
That’s not to say that the book isn’t excellent and wonderful and thought-provoking and possibly brilliant (I haven’t finished it so I can’t say for sure just yet).
Riding on the bus to work last week, I was overcome with a melancholy sadness. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening in my life, so by my powerful and incredibly accurate method of deduction I realised it could only have been one of two things: Lady Gaga’s Judas warbling in my ear (dang it, that’s one catchy tune), or the book open before me, distorting my day with a future that seems to have already happened. It swiftly became clear: it was the book that was turning my mood sour.
And I’m left wondering: Is Oryx and Crake a little too close for comfort? Is there such a thing as too much dystopia in one’s daily life?
Maybe there is, when every day seems to bring a new natural disaster occurring somewhere in the world. Maybe there is, in places like Canberra, where mornings in Civic are icy and people turn the collars up on their coats to shut the wind – and you – out. Maybe there is, when a figurehead of ‘holy war’ is killed, and the Western public can’t trust their own government…the world is sad right now. Maybe sadder than ever.
I think I’ve missed a glaringly obvious reason as to why I enjoy dystopias so much in the first place. Not only do dystopians serve as a red alert about what ‘might happen’ if we keep doing things a certain way, they also are a comfort in that they haven’t happened yet. Not so comforting when you feel like it’s only a matter of time before your country is the next natural disaster zone (apologies for being so depressing – but this book was clearly poor timing)!
I think it’s safe to say that Oryx and Crake was – like milk – ‘a bad choice’. I’ll still read it through to the end, because quite frankly a depressing dystopian by Margaret Atwood is worth 100 frothy books by lesser writers. But if I’m expecting to ever be able to read a dystopian again, I need to be a little more cautious about what I read and when. The First Tuesday Book Club has suggested two books on my current to-be-read list, one which I will be reading for my own personal book club: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. The other is that terrible beauty Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.
They seem to be completely different books from each other, but I’ve heard they’re dystopian-depressing, in their own way. Super Sad True Love Story is a future where books are pretty much non-existent (depressing), while Blood Meridian is considered Western dystopian, set 100 years ago, and somehow involves the Devil (depressing, and freaky).
So yeah. I will read them both soon, but maybe Blood Meridian can wait until I’ve had at least an hour of cuddling my two pugs. It’s hard to stay mad at the world after hugging a puppy, don’t you agree?