Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart goes last will be released next Tuesday, September 29th!

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.

I feel as though I should start off by that saying that this was the first Margaret Atwood book I have ever read. I always hear how remarkable The Handmaid's Tale is, along with many of Atwood's other books, but for some reason I just never got around to picking any of them up. I'm not sure what was preventing me from reading one, considering she's often touted as the queen of dystopian literature, but somehow there was something preventing me from diving into one of her novels. So when I got a random package from DoubleDay books with an ARC of Margaret Atwood's upcoming release, The Heart Goes Last, I took it as a sign to break my Margaret Atwood virginity. 

I knew pretty much nothing about The Heart Goes Last when I received it, so I immediately looked it up to find out more. From what I have gathered, this novel is either related to or continued from her serialized Positron series, published by Byliner. However, there is no indication that one must read the previous Positron serials; I had no prior knowledge of any of this before reading, and I enjoyed the it just fine without that information. 

The Heart Goes Last is set in a dystopian future, where a young-ish couple, Stan and Charmaine, are struggling to survive; they currently live in their car and attempt to live off of Charmaine's meager wages as a waitress. However, a new experiment has begun in their community that is attempting to make people's lives easier. Participants in this new experiment will be given a house, employment, and rather pleasant lifestyle - but only for a total of six months a year. The catch: every other month each resident must spend their time in prison, while an alternate couple - who just completed their month in prison - takes their house for the month. The goal is, of course, to create a perfect society (we know how that tends to go). 

I was drawn into this book from the very beginning. However, I will admit that I felt a bit confused about what was going on at first, but fortunately there was something extraordinarily captivating about Atwood's writing that made me keep reading. It turned out to be an incredibly engaging story - so much that I finished it in about two days (which is likely partly helped by the fact that it's a fairly short book as well). This is also important to note because I have gotten pretty worn out from dystopian novels, but this one was a refreshing take on the genre.

Charmaine seemed to me to be the more stereotypical 'woman in dystopia' character and is much more gullible than her husband. Despite this, I see her naiveté nature as her deep, desperate plea to have a normal and happy life. And truly, that's all she wants: to be happy. It doesn't seem to matter just how gullible Charmaine needs to be for this to happen - she is fully willing to shed any doubts or questioning she has in order to enjoy this new life. 

Stan, however, is a bit more skeptical. From the start, he has a sort of inkling that this isn't going to go as it should. His brother, the ever untrustworthy screw-up, even warns him to stay out of this place. But Stan, being the good husband that he is, wants his wife to be happy, so he placates her and agrees to start the experiment. 

Stan and Charmaine's marriage was really interesting to explore. They weren't exactly passionate about one another, but their bond was incredibly strong - even when it appeared to be the opposite. Physically, they seemed to have a strong sex life, engaging in sexual activities often; however, it was also lacking in passion. Stan often commented how he was bored, and after finding a lipstick-printed note from what he thought was the other couple, he began to constantly fantasize about being much more passionate with the other woman that he had never seen. Stan wanted a life that wasn't so dry and pastel-colored, he wanted vibrancy and flames, like the lipstick color on the note. In my opinion, this is what ultimately drives and motivates Stan. He realizes that he isn't happy and that he does want out of his boring, uneventful life. 

This book plays with a lot of themes, emotions, and situations that are ordinarily pretty crazy. For instance, people who are deemed 'troublesome' are quickly sent to be euthanized; this, of course, is a huge secret that no residents know about, other than the one who performs the euthanasia. Residents are also under surveillance 24/7, whether they realize it or not. I really enjoyed how Atwood wrote in a style that was serious and not serious at the same time. The character are almost unbelievable due to how eccentric they are, but it is that eccentricity and oddness that draws you in and attaches you to each distinct character. The book plays with a vast amount of far-fetched ideas and plot events, but it still makes for an incredibly enjoyable read. And as far-fetched as some of these ideas are, it's frighteningly possible to imagine it happening in our own societies, and I think that is what truly hits home about this novel. While the book is amusing on the outside, it has many elements that convey a darker tone about society that can be found written between the lines of every page.

Overall, I am giving The Heart Goes Last four stars due to its wonderfully engaging and intriguing storyline, which is perfectly matched with Atwood's delightfully quirky and blunt storytelling. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian book (along the lines of 1984, not The Hunger Games), or anyone who simply enjoys something refreshing and entertaining.

And don't forget! The Heart Goes Last will be released on September 29th!

If you like this, you might also like:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

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