I didn’t quite get this one read before it’s release, but considering how busy I’ve been, having it read and posted within a week of its release, September 29, is pretty impressive! Any time there is a new Atwood, I get excited. Margaret Atwood is the Queen of Speculative Fiction, among other things. So when I had the opportunity to request a copy and the publisher, Nan A. Talese granted it*, I was over the moon.
I still have a few older Atwood’s on my shelf to read, but the last I read was Stone Mattress and I really liked where she was going. This being said, I’ve seen quite a few reviews recently of The Heart Goes Last where I’ve wanted to slap the reviewers and say WHAT ABOUT THE BOOK? Mostly people were complaining they had bought the first few chapters on a website and then had to buy the whole book to find out what happened (Hello, single song releases?! Do we not remember the “old days” of the 1990s – early 2000s?) As this doesn’t affect me and most readers, I don’t see why it’s important so don’t let that impact your judgement!
For me, this book was another great piece of speculative fiction. It may not feel as strong as The Handmaid’s Tale or Oryx & Crake, but it definitely belongs on the same shelf. The book only further serves to highlight Atwood’s strengths in writing the near future in a realistically harrowing way. Seriously, everything in all of her dystopic speculative fiction books could easily happen. I mean take the basic premise for this novel
“Then everything went to ratshit. Overnight, it felt like. Not just in his own personal life: the whole card castle, the whole system fell to pieces, trillions of dollars wiped off the balance sheets like fog off a window. There were hordes of two-bit experts on TV pretending to explain why it happened – demographics, loss of confidence, gigantic Ponzi schemes – but that was all guesswork bullshit. Someone had lied, someone had cheated, someone had shorted the market, someone had inflated the currency. Not enough jobs, too many people. Or not enough jobs for middle-of-the-road people like Stan and Charmaine.” (16)
I mean hello, 2008 anyone?! I love how Atwood more-so than a lot of writers takes whats happening in the news and takes it to one of it’s possible ultimate conclusions. I mean she says it in the novel that Positron/Consilience, the dual town of prison and town “was time-share taken to its logical conclusion.” (43)
Even before that, she starts with the idea
“Considering that the whole point of Consilience is for things to run smoothly, with happy citizens, or are they inmates? Both, to be honest. Because citizens were always a bit like inmates and inmates were always a bit like citizens, so Consilience and Positron have only made it official.” (133)
For me, the entire point of The Heart Goes Last is playing mind games with the characters and with the reader. She doesn’t do it as successfully as I felt she did it in The Blind Assassin, but she still kept me guessing throughout the novel right up to the end. (I had the right idea, just not the right people.) The mind games between Stan and Charmaine, Jocelyn and Phil, and Ed were enough to drive me a bit crazy. And the ending was a bit of a “holy shit” moment because it made you rethink the last 50 pages and what is real and what could be real.
This is where I think a lot of people had issues with this book. From those I’ve read by Atwood these characters were the most base characters. Stan and Charmaine spend most of the novel coming across as crass and dumb respectively. Neither seem to have any agency and seem incredibly lowbrow compared to her many other characters and books. Jocelyn, however was particularly devious and I loved it.
The Heart Goes Last is a great look into what happens when someone willingly gives up their rights and I don’t think there was a question about the following
“Some bloggers objected, others agreed and in no time at all ‘Communist’ and ‘Fascist’ and ‘psychopathy’ and ‘soft on crime’ and a new one, ‘neuropimp,’ were whizzing through the air like buckshot.” (248)
Atwood shows how easily we as a people could easily fall into any of these things. And to be frank, she’s making sure we remember history at the same time she’s looking at the future (sexbots and mind alterations).
Recommendation: Read it and enjoy it! I think it’s a great addition to the Atwood oeuvre and it’s a story that needs to be shared. I enjoyed the break from some of the heavier novels Atwood’s written. The black humor (which some reviewers seemed to miss or not find at all) was excellent and I laughed multiple times.
*I received a copy of The Heart Goes Last from the publisher in return for my honest opinion. I received no compensation.
Opening Line: “Sleeping in the car is cramped.”
Closing Line: “‘How do you mean?’ says Charmaine?” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Heart Goes Last
“Anyway, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, as he is sure they know from experience. Another chuckle. Be a loner, get a boner, thinks Stan.” (39)
“The spokesmen, or rather the spokespersons – Ed glances at the woman, who smiles – have braved a lot of indignant screaming from the online radicals and malcontents who claim that Consilience/Positron is an infringement of individual liberties, an attempt at total social control, an insult to the human spirit. Nobody is more dedicated to individual liberties than Ed is, but as they all know – here Ed gives a conspiratorial smile – you can’t eat your so-called individual liberties, and the human spirit pay no bills, and something needed to be done to relieve the pressure inside the social pressure-cooker.” (41)
“This is the problem with his fantasies: they become too vivid then veer off into snafus and fuckups, and he gets tangled up in what might go wrung. So much already has.” (90)
“As an on-demand sexual experience, it’s said to be better than the bonk-a-chicken racket that used to go on at Positron, they add. No squawking, no scratchy claws. And better than a warm watermelon too, the latter being not all that responsive.” (103)
“Consilience = cons + resilience. Do time now, buy time for our future.” (110)
“He shouldn’t have let himself be caged in here, walled off from freedom. But what does freedom mean any more? And who had caged him and walled him off? He’d done it himself. So many small choices. The reduction of himself to a series of numbers, stored by others, controlled by others. He should have left the disintegrating cities, fled the pinched, cramped life on offer there. Broken out of the electronic net, thrown away all the passwords, gone forth to range over the land, a gaunt wolf howling at midnight.” (138)
“‘Suppose you could customize a human being through a brain procedure.’ ‘How do you mean’ says Stan. ‘They use lasers,’ says Budge. ‘They can wipe your attachment to anyone previous. When the subject wakes up she imprints on whoever’s there. It’s like ducklings.'” (181)
“…to be a rascal is one thing, it’s almost respectable, but to be an idiot is pathetic. They’re evenly balanced on the teeter-totter of cheating, so by mutual consent they never mention it.” (261)