Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood


The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood


Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month—swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.


Review: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake are some of my favorite novels of all time. Atwood’s books are usually beautifully written and thought provoking. Usually. I’ve been struggling with some of her recent releases. Angel Catbird made me cringe so hard that I’m surprised my face isn’t stuck in a permanent cringe. Unfortunately, The Heart Goes Last also left me thinking WTF?

Fun fact: I actually put off reading this book for a strange reason. Two of the characters have the same names as my grandparents, and they have tons of graphic sex. The characters, I mean. Not my grandparents. I know nothing about my grandparents’ sex lives. I was worried that I’d picture my grandparents as the characters during the sex scenes, and that’s just . . . *shudder*

This review is only two paragraphs long, and it’s already awkward.

Okay. Moving on. The Heart Goes Last is a dystopia set in a world with rampant crime, joblessness, and homelessness. The main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are living in their car when Charmaine sees an advertisement for an experimental community. The people in the community would get everything they need: food, homes, money, hobbies. However, every other month, they’d have to give up their freedom and become “prisoners.” They’d live in a prison and do all the hard, unpleasant jobs it takes to keep a community running. Stan and Charmaine eagerly sign up for the experiment. When they get to the community, they notice that things are not as great as they seem from the outside. There are mysterious disappearances and a strange factory that makes lifelike celebrity sex robots. Stan and Charmaine get roped into the deadly job of uncovering the community’s secrets and smuggling them to the press.


“That was the original idea, but once you’ve got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want.” – The Heart Goes Last



I felt very hot-and-cold about this book. There are some plot points that I loved and really got into, and other plot points that just seem . . . silly.

The mystery is the best part of The Heart Goes Last. What is going on in this utopia, and who are Stan and Charmaine’s “Alternates”? The Alternates are the people who live in Stan and Charmaine’s house while they’re in prison. Stan and Charmaine aren’t supposed to have any contact with the Alternates, but they start learning things about them based on what they leave in the house. Stan and Charmaine also have their own secret ideas (and sexual fantasies) about the Alternates’ identities. I enjoyed watching all the pieces come together.

Like all of Margaret Atwood’s books, this one raises some interesting questions. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but would you rather be free or happy? The characters are forced to make some tough choices about that.


“Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?” – The Heart Goes Last
 
“If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?” – The Heart Goes Last



My biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel like a Margaret Atwood novel to me. I love her work because she’s phenomenal at developing characters, but the characters in The Heart Goes Last are shallow. I never felt like I understood their motives. They mostly seem like pawns that the author is forcing through a silly sequence of events.

That brings me to the next issue: The characters come up with this bizarre, convoluted plan to smuggle information out of the community, and it all seems very unnecessary. Why did the plan have to be so silly? Why did we need all those details about sex robots and gay Elvis impersonators? It feels like there’s a metafictional joke somewhere in here that I didn’t understand. Maybe Margaret Atwood is just much smarter than me. My brain can’t keep up with her.

I didn’t hate this book. There are some aspects of it that I appreciate. I’ll continue to read Margaret Atwood’s work. But, I don’t think this is one of Atwood’s stronger novels.







12 comments:

  1. I've been interested in this book since before it was released, but I didn't LOVE The Handmaid's Tale, so I was hesitant. The premise sounds so interesting though! I'm sorry it wasn't a great read for you. Maybe I'll try to grab the audio!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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  2. "The characters, I mean. Not my grandparents. " Haha, yeah, I can see how that would be off-putting. I think I'll save this one for audio. It sounds interesting and a little strange in its execution.

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  3. Great review, AJ. I have been all over the place with Atwood. Handmaid's Tale has been a favorite since, oh, before you were born? And I loved some of her story collections. But Cat's Eye was really disturbing. Alias Grace was up and down. I often feel underly-intellectual when reading her stuff, so I've been kind of reluctant to in the past several years, now that I have less brain space. Still, it is a great premise!

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    1. I’ve read almost all of Atwood’s books. Most of them are brilliant, but the ones that have come out in the past few years have been bizarre. They make me feel stupid. I don’t like them very much.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I had this as an ARC from Edelweiss. I had heard great things about Atwood based on The Handnaid's Tale. This was my first reading her and I didn't like it. As you said, it raised some great questions, I will give it that, but the writing was quite repetitive. I was going to ditch the idea of reading Handmaid's, based on this book, but when I went to Goodreads to leave a review I saw a lot of her fans hadn't liked this one either. Thanks for sharing your review. :)

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    1. The Handmaid’s Tale is a million times better than this book. I’m one of those fans who loved The Handmaid’s Tale but not The Heart Goes Last.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Confession time! I have NEVER read a Margaret Atwood book because I fail. I DO want to read The Handmaid's Tale ASAP. I have a Book Depository coupon, maybe I'll buy it. My point is, I will not start with this one. I am sorry that it wasn't a huge win for you. Shallow characters are kind of the worst, tbh. Glad to know her other books are better in that department! Great review :)

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  6. I haven't read a Margaret Atwood novel either, and I confess as important as her work is I'm still not sure I want to. I don't know, I'm being weird I know! Weirder still? For all these one's faults, there are elements I am so curious about that I would give this a read to have my questions answered!

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  7. Your review really intrigues me! Even though it's not super positive or anything. But the premise seems rather interesting. Too bad you didn't like it.. I have also been hit or miss with Atwood. Loved the Handmaid's Tale, hated Blind Assassin.
    The thing about your gramp's names is just crazy though! I can't believe it fit just like that, especially with names like this, that aren't just Anne and John or something. Wow! And a totally valid, yet still hilarious reason to put it off xD

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  8. I recently read the Handmaid's Tale and felt kind of hot-and-cold about that one (I know, don't hate me xD) and I have this one so I wondered what you thought of it. It sounds weird... but very thought provoking just the same. It's funny about your grandparents names as well :P

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