Book Review | The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood Book Review Can Lit

[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?

Book Review | The Word Exchange

Meme /ˈmiːm/ n  :  An element of a culture or system of behaviour that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non genetic means, esp. imitation.

I’m sure you all have heard of “memes” but did you know that the word is actually shortened from the Ancient Greek word “mimeme”? In modern language, the popularized “meme” refers to a “concept that spreads rapidly from person to person via the Internet.”* In Alena Graedon’s debut novel The Word Exchange, a “meme” refers to a digital device that humans have become over-dependent on, using it for every little thing like making calls, banking, and even to look up words that they’ve forgotten.

The etymology and evolution of language is just one of the aspects this dystopian novel touches on. Set in the future, the Word Exchange is an online dictionary of sorts – users pay money to “download” the definition of words that have slipped their mind and, eventually, users are encouraged to upload their own made up words to another app which can be downloaded from the Word Exchange for a cost as well. The story starts with the disappearance of Doug Johnson, the father of Anana Johnson who is the narrator for most of the novel. The story follows Anana as she tries to track down her father, learning about the secrets of the meme and the Word Exchange along the way.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I’ve often pondered the impact new technology has on our lives and how this affects the printed word. With e-readers becoming more prolific and Google becoming more and more powerful, it sometimes really does seem like the meme and the Word Exchange could become a reality. The mystery of Doug’s disappearance carries the novel really well and I found myself very invested in Anana’s quest to find him and the truth about the Word Exchange. Graedon has a knack for writing suspenseful cliffhangers at the end of her chapters and that does a lot to help further the story and keep the reader interested. I could definitely see this being published as a serial (do such things still exist?).

I did have some gripes about the book though. There were a few questions regarding the plot that diverted my attention and took away from the book; for example, at one point, Anana states that her funds were running low after leaving her job to find Doug yet she continues to take taxis throughout the city. How she continued to have enough money throughout the book is eventually explained but it was revealed so late in the story that it had already distracted me enough to make me feel frustrated. Another example, though this one I can admit might be because I was too late to catch on [update April 18th 2014Leah has correctly pointed out that the answer to this is mentioned early on in the text; I must have glossed over it when reading. The following frustration is solely my own misreading. Thank you for  the correction, Leah!], is the question why we could understand Anana completely throughout the book even when she had the Word Flu yet we couldn’t understand certain words Bart was saying when he was infected. Again, this is explained later in the text but before I figured it out it was a little frustrating as it felt inconsistent.

That said, I found The Word Exchange to be an extremely entertaining read and though I think, or hope, the events are pretty improbable, it still made me question whether we should be so dependent on the internet and external memory.

Verdict: A very captivating book with a strong story and interesting ideas.
Read if: You’ve ever wondered about the future of the printed word, the impact technology has on our lives,and/or want to read something thrilling and dystopian.

*Embarrassingly, my mini dictionary didn’t have the word meme in it, so everything I’ve quoted and found has been from (a) Google and (b) Wikipedia.

Have you read The Word Exchange? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you think you will?

Wishlist Wednesday | The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange

Source: Google

[Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop hosted by Pen to Paper]

This week I’m so excited to add The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon to my wishlist! I’m actually cheating a little because I have it ordered and am just waiting for it to arrive, but I just had to profess my preemptive love for this dystopian novel! According to Goodreads:

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

As a book lover, you can see why I would be interested in this book. With all of these bookstores closing (6 closed/announced closure in 6 weeks, in fact) losing the printed word is a legitimate worry. I don’t know what it is about dystopian fiction that is so thrilling, but I really enjoy it as a genre. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

Have you read The Word Exchange? Did you add anything to your wishlist this week?

Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale

I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book until now.

The Handmaid’s Tale is on numerous high school and university reading lists and I can absolutely see why. Set in the near future where everyone is divided into specialized categories (Handmaid, Martha, Guardian, Commander, Commander’s Wife, etc), we see a totalitarian society where everyone is oppressed in their own way. The story is narrated by Offred, a Handmaid, and follows her journey in transitioning to this new reality. As a Handmaid she only has one purpose – to breed. Her meals are designed to increase her chances of conception, she is only allowed out of the house during her morning walk, and she is required to wear the Handmaids’ uniform. Simple privileges like choosing an outfit or reading are no longer available to her. What has happened to her family from her previous life? Is there any way out of this way of living? Is there hope?

I devoured this book. I seriously could not put it down. The society that Atwood creates is terrifying in that it doesn’t seem altogether removed from reality. Due to Atwood’s brilliance (or my pessimism towards our society), it feels like our world really could suddenly become Offred’s world. I have heard other readers argue that they had a hard time believing the sudden transition between regimes but I had no troubles suspending this disbelief. Offred’s narration has a sad, reminiscent tone and I was more appalled than skeptical. As the book progressed, I became more and more immersed in Offred’s story. I found myself becoming paranoid with her. Who can she really trust in a world like this, when trusting the wrong person means torture and death? I couldn’t help but root for her to escape and so the book kept me on the edge of my seat till the very last page.

Beside the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly well-written, suspenseful book, I love it even more because it invites its readers to think. Though I appreciate the steps we have taken so far regarding women’s rights, the book made me wonder how much progress we really have made. There is so much more to be done. The distinction between “freedom to” and “freedom from” is raised in the book and while I have a new-found appreciation for my freedom to read, I am left wondering about our various “freedom froms”. There are still so many problematic discussions about birth control and rape. There is the thought that granting women’s rights means diminishing men’s rights. These thoughts are all brought to the forefront in The Handmaid’s Tale and really solidifies its stance as a cautionary, dystopic work of fiction.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book so I’ll end my review here, but I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. The impact of the book left me so disturbed that I couldn’t even pick up another book to read the next day. It’s one of the best dystopian books I have ever read.

Verdict: Highly recommended
Read if: You like dystopian fiction, suspense, thought-provoking reads