Posts filed under ‘Dystopia’
The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood’s latest, carries all the hallmarks of her recent excellent works, especially the Oryx and Crake trilogy. Dystopian situation? Check. Strange, surreal hybrid animals? Check. Sharp social feminist commentary? Check.
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple forced to live in their car after a nationwide economic collapse. One day, at the dive bar where she scrapes in a menial income, Charmaine sees a TV ad that promises a new life, complete with a desirable job, comfortable house, and stylish clothes, to anyone who signs up. The catch? Every other month must be spent in a prison facility. Even with this caveat, the deal is a no-brainer to Charmaine. Soon, she and Stan are beginning their new lives in the town of “Consilience,” next door to Positron prison. How bad could it be? Famous last words of a dystopia, right?
Actually, not that bad, as it turns out. To me, the book almost felt like Atwood-lite. Where were the unsettling implications? The tone starts changing halfway through the book, becoming both more farcical, and almost exclusively fixated on sex and desire. If the book had begun with a “chilling” premise, the reader becomes decidedly un-chilled as the book goes on and the narrative becomes amusing instead of troubling. It even ends relatively happily.
Still, Atwood’s imaginative and darkly humorous prose and aforementioned sharp social commentary make pretty much anything by her worth reading, in my opinion. Lovers of either dystopian books or dark comedy should check this one out. So should die-hard Atwood fans, even if it leaves a little something to be desired.
At The Circle, the gleaming tech workplace of Eggers’ latest drama, “sharing is caring,” and “full transparency” is the ultimate goal. Mae Holland, a young employee just starting out at The Circle, takes these imperatives seriously. After all, through her former college roommate, she’s snagged a job any recent college grad would die for. At first, Mae is taken aback by the level of “participation” her supervisors expect from her, all outside of her normal work hours–attendance at parties and functions, hobbies, interests–and all comprehensively documented via social media. But before long, Mae finds herself adroitly juggling–and documenting—her fun, glamorous life at the Circle, and easily climbs the ranks. But at what price?
Eggers, a quirky author known for both non-fiction (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; Zeitoun) and fiction (What is the What) chooses to make his dystopia friendly and familiar. (It seems to be modeled heavily on tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.) Although there are a few “voice of reason” characters throughout the novel, most employees of The Circle don’t seem to have any problem with it. For those who like a lot of action, this may not be the book for you. However I would argue that the genius of this book is the fact that the characters barely seem to realize they’re in a dystopia. As The Circle’s founders vow, ominously, to “complete the Circle,” everyone cheerfully and willingly relinquishes every bit of their personal information–health, financial, familial, romantic….the list goes on and on. But what happens when the Circle is completed? Eggers shines a mirror on our current hyper-connected state, and the result is a book that got under my skin like one of the GPS tracking devices championed by a Circle employee. If you like creepy, give it a try.
The title may sound…familiar. It may even seem like you can’t pick up a magazine, turn on the TV or get a good book recommendation lately without hearing about it. And with good reason. Shades of Grey is the wonderfully clever, inventive new novel from Jasper Fforde, author of the beloved “Thursday Next” literary fantasy series. I assure you, you’ve come to the right book.
In Britain more than 500 years in the future–centuries after the ominous-yet-vaguely-titled “Something That Happened”–the world has become a Colortocracy, its hierarchy based on the amount of pure color perception one has. Our narrator, Eddie Russett, is a Red. Reds happen to be the second-lowest color on the totem pole, above only Greys, who have no or very little color perception at all. Nonetheless, Eddie cheerfully accepts his lot in life, following the ridiculous Rules laid out by “Munsell” centuries before, and planning his marriage to Constance, a union that will guarantee Eddie a lifetime of cushy complacency.
But then Eddie and his father are unexpectedly sent to the Outer Fringes, ostensibly to conduct a “chair census,” and Eddie meets a feisty, disagreeable Grey named Jane. Eddie is instantly smitten. Jane, less so. Soon, Eddie finds his worldviews challenged and his eyes opened to a vibrant underground network of Grey dissidents and other like-minded radicals. Eddie finds himself in love with Jane, although she attempts to kill him, multiple times, and even ends up pitching him into the mouth-hole of a carnivorous tree. How does that turn out for Eddie? You’ll have to read on to find out.
This book blew my mind. It’s the only book I have ever felt compelled to read twice in a row, in two different formats. First, I listened to the audiobook version–it’s a treat on audio, voiced with acerbic perfection by John Lee, a renowned British voice actor. I enjoyed the audio immensely but felt like I was missing something, and immediately obtained the print version after the audio was over. I’m so glad I did. The audiobook whet my appetite, but this is a book that can really be savored in print–Fforde adds so many absurdist touches and clever details that I got so much more out of it the second time. Also, some may fear dystopian novels like Shades of Grey to be too dreary or heavy-handed—but then, they haven’t read Fforde. Shades of Grey manages to be satirical, absurd, serious, insightful and extremely funny all at once.
So go on, pick up Shades of Grey, and see what everyone’s talking about. And then tell all your friends–you’ll be glad you did.