Margaret Atwood: The Heart Goes Last

3 Aug

Spun off from a series of digital short stories, this “speculative fiction” set in a plausible near term future is quintessential Margaret Atwood – darkly humorous, troubled characters, and a dystopian vision of what might await us when we trade freedom for security.

Stan and Charmaine are living in their car when the story begins, without preamble as to what has caused the near Walking Dead atmosphere of peril. When offered a chance to live safely in exchange for participating in a social experiment, they leap at it.One month out in the community, and one month inside prison – alternating with people who share their house. Charmaine’s job inside the prison is administering The Procedure – inserting a needle of poison into condemned prisoners.

Atwood takes us inside their heads – neither character is especially loveable – describing their thoughts in her inimitable style. As Charmaine inserts the needle: “He smiles. She times the procedure: five minutes of ecstasy. It’s more than a lot of people get in their whole lifetimes. Then he’s unconscious. Then he stops breathing. The heart goes last.” I love her style of writing – crisp and clear yet evocative. “Don’t cry anymore, she tells herself. Just do one thing at a time. Get from hour to hour and day to day like a frog jumping on lily pads. Not that she has ever seen a frog doing that except on TV.”

The tone of the book is uneven, with the last section in Vegas turning more into an action/sci fi adventure. The characters themselves don’t especially develop as people. The good guys win in the end – in a Blue Velvet kind of way.

As a fan of Margaret Atwood, I liked the book. I wouldn’t say it’s a classic in the same way as the Handmaiden’s Tale, but for fans, worth the read.



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