[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Penguin Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit that I had never read anything by the incredibly intelligent and prolific Margaret Atwood until early 2014. But after loving The Handmaid’s Tale — and now The Heart Goes Last — I’m officially a fan.
Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, the characters in The Heart Goes Last find themselves in a dismal situation. Living out of their car and barely surviving after an economic collapse that has created widespread unemployment and the rise of crime and instability, Stan and Charmaine are lured by a new project called the Positron Project, which promises participants self-reliance and a comfortable place to stay for the rest of their lives. The only catch? While the participants are assigned employment and residence, they are also required to serve time in Positron Prison every other month. This is all well and good (and even, maybe, a great idea?) until Charmaine becomes entangled with an Alternate: a resident who lives in her house while she and Stan are in Positron Prison. Soon, the Positron Project doesn’t seem like such a utopia after all…
My first reaction after finishing this book was to go through a mental list of who I could push this book onto because this is absolutely the type of book that you share to any and everyone who will listen to you. It has a perfect mix of everything: social commentary, adventure, and romance. I was absolutely enthralled by the idea of the Positron Project, and how being a prisoner one month and a civilian the next would affect one’s mental state. As the more sinister side of the Positron Project comes to light (yes, it gets even more terrifying!), the book’s plot just propels forward and becomes a full-blown adventure filled with secrets, revenge, and complicated love stories. Not only do the main characters Stan and Charmaine have to endure the crazy situations they’ve unknowingly subjected themselves to, they must also overcome their hurdles as a couple. In a way, Stan and Charmaine’s story reminded me of the romance between Axl and Beatrice in Ishiguro’s most recent work The Buried Giant. Can a love survive transgressions? What does it mean to fully trust and forgive someone?
If it seems like Atwood is trying to tackle too much at once, don’t worry; she is more than capable of balancing these elements and pulling them together. The Heart Goes Last is a riveting book that will have you saying “one more page, one more page” until you’re done. This is a title you will not want to miss this fall.
Verdict: The Heart Goes Last is just as great as you’d expect from Atwood (which is really great). It mixes a fast-paced plot with three dimensional characters to create a world that feels at once far-fetched and eerily possible.
Read if: You’re a fan of dystopian novels, you want to read a masterful work by one of Canada’s greatest writers, you don’t want to miss out on the book that everyone will be talking about.
Ps. I still can’t believe this happened.
Are you planning to read The Heart Goes Last? Are you an Atwood fan? Do you think you could survive in the Positron Project?