Book Review

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Book Title: The Heart Goes Last
Author: Margaret Atwood
Amazon Link: Click here

Disclaimer: I received this free book from NetGalley in exchange for an un-biased review.

I’d forgotten how Margaret Atwood books make me feel. I remembered that I love them, and was so incredibly excited when I found out I was getting a review copy from NetGalley, but I forgot how I feel in the process of reading one of her books. Intellectually they are stimulating, rife with new ideas. They can also be a bit of a bummer. I’m a long time reader of her books, the first I read being The Handmaid’s Tale. That book infuriated me. I found myself reading with bated breath. Anxious, angry and frustrated with the world I found myself immersed in. Her new novel The Heart Goes Last also left me with strong emotions. What a bummer of a book. Not because it was terribly sad, there are Elvis impersonators lightening things up for goodness sakes! This book is part social critique and part madcap prison escape. As I explained it to a friend, what is upsetting about the book is Atwood writes about a world we haven’t seen yet, but is very very possible, and that’s a scary thing. Her worlds are peopled with corporations, politicians, big money industries with one thing in mind, how best to screw over the normal people who suffer under them just trying to live their day to day lives. In an earlier novel, Oryx and Crake , vitamin companies set up a scheme which does double duty by introducing germs into their product. Well, the company is also a pharmaceutical company which can then treat that newly sick patient. What you’ve created for yourself is a never ending revenue stream. Lovely, how enterprising of them. You can see what we are dealing with here.

In The Heart Goes Last the economic climate has frozen over. There quite simply is no more money for the common people, the majority are homeless, unemployed and hopeless. Prisons have been set up by corporations in order to take advantage of people who are economically desperate. These people find themselves willing to give up all freedoms for the chance to live in a clean place, make a few dollars and feel a measure of self-respect again. At what cost? The couple at the center of this novel find out exactly how much the cost of their pursuit of happiness will be. They are constantly in danger from powerful people around them with more money, less morals and evil intentions. Her characters are very rarely good/evil. They are not all likeable, not every narrator is to be believed, nothing can be taken for granted.

What made me sad while reading this book is the realization that it is all just so possible. Which is the blessing and the curse of an Atwood book. You know going in, not only is it possible, but it is very probable. Atwood calls her books “speculative fiction”. Not fantasy, or science fiction which gives it a decidedly “This would never happen.” feel. She wants us to realize that these future possibilities are the trajectory we are currenlty on if allowed to continue unchecked. Thankfully we have voices like Atwood’s to sound a warning. To remind us what can happen if we are not vigilant about where our society is going, as well as a reminder of what we are all capable of. Reading this novel requires thought and discernment. That’s what I love about it.

Bonus link: Here’s a Youtube video of a speech by Atwood about the concept of Speculative Fiction. Enjoy!

Song for this book: Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley


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