Book No 29 (2014) : Oryx and Crake

oryxMargaret Atwood is a genius. I have found some of her longer works inaccessible, but ‘Oryz and Crake’ is absorbing and thought-provoking. It is the first of a trilogy, followed by ‘The Year of the Flood’ and ‘MaddAddam’.

Snowman (aka Jimmy and Thickney) is surviving in a post-Apocalyptic landscape. He lives on the coast, taking care of the Crakers, a gentle and peaceful race. Survival depends on being able to forage water, food, weapons from the remains of civilisation. He also needs to find shades and protection from the blazing sun. Snowman is lonely and his mind keeps drawing him back to the past – to his childhood, university days, his friendship with the brilliant Crake and his relationship with Oryx. Through these flashbacks, the reader discovers his connection to the downfall of the human race as we know it – and it’s not pleasant.

The tantalising aspect of the book is that the scenario seems so plausible. Huge scientific multi-nationals have come up with technological solutions to the problems of world over-population, disease and conflict. ‘Pigoons’ are animals which have been created as hosts for growing multiple kidneys; more cost-effective and less distressing than ‘cloning a harvest child’. Having cured all the known illnesses, the pharmaceutical giants are running out of ways to make money, so, they manufacture some new strains and distribute them via innocuous vitamin pills. The wherewithal to do these things probably exists in 2014, which made me feel more than slightly uneasy whilst reading.

‘Oryx and Crake’ is a flight of fancy But it left me feeling that our plane may already be taxi-ing along the runway.

Book No 5 (2014) : Painter of Silence

painter of silenceThis novel was described so eloquently by a friend at our last village Book Group meeting, that I swiped it out of her hands there and then! Written by Georgina Harding, ‘Painter of Silence’ was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012 – although it did lose out to Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’.

Augustus and Safta are raised together in Romania. He is the son of the cook, she is the daughter of the house at Poiana. They share an unbreakable bond, made all the more poignant by the fact that whilst Augustus is a talented artist, he is profoundly deaf and never acquires language. He watches quietly, observes the behaviour and senses the mood of others, although the world is frequently a bewildering place for him. Safta and Augustus are separated by the outbreak of WW2 and the invasion of the Russian armies, but they are reunited when Augustus seeks her out at the hospital where she has enlisted as a nurse. Through the medium of his drawings and mini figurines, Augustus draws upon his memories to portray to Safta the story of his life and the fate of her pre-War lover. The ending is both surprising and satisfying.

It’s a beautifully atmospheric book, underlining the importance of place and suffused throughout with Safta’s gentle care for Augustus. I recommend it.