The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

imageLiving in their car, surviving on tips, SCharmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

So I originally planned on posting this review on Monday.  Then I didn’t.  Why? Because I was struggling with how I felt about the novel and what I had written didn’t feel right – and it didn’t, if I’m honest, feel honest which I always try to be.

My problems started with the fact that I love Margaret Atwood.  I have read the majority of her books and I can (honestly this time) say there isn’t one I haven’t liked and a lot of which I’ve loved. That includes the Maddaddam trilogy which I know not everyone enjoyed and did, I admit, take some getting used to.  Once I’d settled into the rhythm of the first book though, the language and the imagry, I was hooked on the stories of a disparate group of people trying to survive in a world wiped out by man-made plagues and problems.

There are many of the same themes in The Heart Goes Last.  The world hasn’t been wiped out by a virus but it has been hit by the financial collapse and the central characters, Stan and Charmaine are struggling as a result having lost their jobs and home and finding themselves living in a car.  When Charmaine sees an ad for a town of Consilience where she can have a house again, clean sheets, a job in return for living an alternate lifestyle as a prisoner every other month she can’t say no  – and, because he loves her, neither can Stan.  Like his brother tells him though if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

At first, all seems well but slowly the dream becomes a nightmare.  They can’t leave Consilience and they can’t talk to the outside world.  There are people watching all the time and big, black, cars silently cruise the streets.  Big corporations with no moral compass are in charge.  Greed, lust, and power are what they care about, not helping people live better lives as they promised.  Not unless you are rich, of course, and can pay for the organs harvested from prisoners who won’t reform or the baby blood sold to make you young again.

These are all things that were touched on in the Maddaddam books and they are all things that scare me because they feel like they could be real and make me think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  The thing with this book though, was that I found I didn’t care.  I didn’t feel scared.  And that’s because I didn’t believe in any of the characters or the world Atwood had created in Consilience and beyond.  I wanted to, I really did, but I didn’t.  Instead, Stan and Charmaine annoyed me. I found them weak and ineffectual.  The other central characters were just as bad, flat and stereotypical.  I really didn’t care if they did have their minds wiped because Ed, the man in charge, felt like it.

Even Atwood’s language, which I normally find paints a picture for me, let me down.  It felt like she was going through the motions before beating me over the head with her message in the final pages – just in case I hadn’t understood.  This was originally a series of magazine articles I think or short stories, and maybe that was the problem.  Maybe if I’d read them as that I’d feel differently.  But, unfortunately, I don’t – which means (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) this wasn’t one for me.  Sorry!

Emma

 

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The Well by Catherine Chanter

Iimagen the not so distant future, the world is falling apart. In the UK there has been years of drought, impacting the economy and the way people treat each other. Religious worship is on the rise as people search for answers and government policy is becoming dictatorial. Into the chaos step Ruth and Mark, a middle-aged couple who move to the countryside in search of a new life.

Living and working on a farm has always been Mark’s dream and Ruth goes along with it, hoping it will save them and their marriage. Arriving at The Well, though, she realises is isn’t just for Mark, it is for her. It couldn’t be more perfect. And it couldn’t be more fertile. Whilst the rain refuses to fall in the rest of the country, at The Well it falls most nights. When it doesn’t the land draws nourishment from the natural streams that runs through it’s property.

Lost in their own private oasis, the couple are slow to realise just how much their good fortune is rubbing their neighbours up the wrong way, and drawing attention they don’t need from the wider world. As government agencies start to become interested and worshippers appear at their gate, Ruth and Mark begin to fall apart, each responding differently but each pretty badly to the situation and neither seems to realise the other is struggling. When the sisters arrive things go from bad to worse and death follows.

All this is told from Ruth’s perspective with a sense of doom for things that have already happened, tragedies lived through and decisions made that cannot be undone. It’s a mix of past and present, with Ruth gradually piecing things together. It is all just a bit depressing, a vision of a world where things have gone wrong and nobody knows quite how to make them right again. The world of The Well is a microcosm of what is going on everywhere and you know it can’t end well. Which it doesn’t.

Given that Ruth was under house arrest when the story starts this isn’t a surprise. How the story unfolds is – the slow deterioration of her marriage and her mind before the final rush towards disaster, the lack of understanding of just what is happening and unwillingness to face facts. And the kindness of strangers, showing the world isn’t always all bad.

My library has this book categorised as crime and there is a murder but it feels like more than that. It is about how a lot of people are hanging on by a thread and how it doesn’t take much for that thread to snap. And it is a warning about how easy it is for the world to fall apart thanks to the vagaries of nature, especially if we keep destroying the planet the way we are.

Given the subject matter, I can’t say that this is a book everyone will enjoy, though I did. It’s well written, with great characterisation (even if I didn’t completely like anyone, I did feel for the most) and I would think would be something any fan of dystopian fiction should give a go.  An excellent debut – liked it a lot!

Emma x

J by Howard Jacobson

Title: J
Author: Howard Jacobson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Some time in the past, something happened, if it happened, that wasn’t good. No one is quite sure what it was, what caused it, and no one talks about it. Because of it, people’s surnames and place names changed so no one could be singled out and no one could be blamed; holding on to memories of the past and family heirlooms is discouraged; love songs and ballads are piped through entertainment systems. And everyone says sorry for everything, every slight or insult. All the saying sorry in the world though doesn’t seem to be able to stop the increased violence being seen everywhere. And it doesn’t seem to make anyone happy. No one in “J” is happy – or at least not happy for long.

This includes the two main characters, Kevern Cohen and Ailinn Solomons. Born and raised in Port Reuben, Kevern’s father secretly listened to jazz but put his fingers over his lips whenever he said a word starting with “J”, teaching Kevern to do the same, whilst his mother constantly warned his father to not say anything about anything. Kevern has never felt like he fits in or been accepted by the people of Port Reuben but he’s never sure why. Ailinn, recently arrived from a place “up north” is another outsider, orphaned and adopted by parents who didn’t love her. She feels she is constantly running from something. Then a stranger introduces the unlikely pair and they begin to fall in love. Read More »

Halo by Frankie Rose

Title: Halo
Author: Frankie Rose
Series: Blood & Fire (Book 1)
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Halo Frankie Rose

Falin Kitsch was born to fight. Her halo stops her feeling fear and pain, something she knows and accepts, even welcomes at times. It is the way of Sanctuary. Trues are born to rule, allowed to feel and don’t have to fight. For them, the monthly amphi-match means sport, money, and family honour. For Falins, it means life or death. They are owned by the Trues, who decide when they will fight and who they will fight. And they decide Falin Kitsch will fight her training partner, Falin Asha.

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