Book Review: Oryx and Crake

by John Downey '23 on March 26, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Oryx and Crake

An Origin Story for a Brave New World

Madison Palmieri ’22

If there’s one thing Margaret Atwood is known for, it’s crafting dystopian tales that feel simultaneously foreign and all too familiar. While the acclaimed author is best known for The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel is only of many which evince her keen ability to make readers question their reality and the future to which it may lead.

Indeed, her 2003 book Oryx and Crake, the first installment of the MaddAddam trilogy, likewise forces readers into this uncomfortable but important position. In true Atwood fashion, the novel jumps from one period in time to another: readers learn of the narrative’s present day through the eyes of Snowman, who seems to be the only survivor of a cataclysmic event, and learn of the past events which led to this state of affairs from the perspective of Jimmy, the young man that Snowman used to be.

The present-day storyline sees Snowman struggle to survive in the wilderness with only strange new humanoids for company. He is haunted by voices and visions of his past, especially those of the titular Oryx and Crake. The former is the only woman he ever truly loved; the latter is the man responsible for the apocalypse and the creator of the humanoids—and Jimmy’s best friend.

In order to cope with the “brave new world” in which he finds himself, and perhaps to help the humanoid “Crakers” cope as well, he devises a mythology centered around Oryx and Crake, casting the former as a mother figure to the creatures of the Earth and the latter as a father figure to the humanoids themselves. Snowman presents himself as a sort of intermediary prophet between these “deities” and the Crakers.

The past storyline follows Jimmy as he grows up in an increasingly unhappy household, befriends Crake, and loses touch with him, though the pair ultimately reconnect. While a great deal of this storyline consists of worldbuilding, Atwood’s choice to present it through the young Jimmy’s eyes makes it natural and engaging. Indeed, readers learn of strange new creatures such as “wolvogs” and “pigoons” designed in labs alongside the young boy.

These two storylines merge at Oryx and Crake’s climax in a satisfying way, and while the novel ends with a cliffhanger, this is only because the complete story continues to unfold over the course of the two additional books that comprise the MaddAddam trilogy.

Although Atwood’s keen use of structure and compelling prose make this novel a fast-paced, hard-to-put-down read, it is frustrating that Oryx is relegated to the stereotypical role of the fairly helpless love interest, useful only for what she can offer the male characters. While Atwood’s skill and social awareness makes it evident that this portrayal is purposeful for what it can say about how society treats women, it is nonetheless disheartening that the novel’s only major female character is treated as such.

Overall, however, Oryx and Crake is a memorable read. It will force readers to think about what they do—and don’t—know about how the world they inhabit came to be as well as what they accept as true about this origin story. 

Rating: 4/5 stars