The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Rating: 4 stars

Margaret Atwood has been a very busy bee lately. I kept telling people I was reading “the new Margaret Atwood novel”, and apparently this wasn’t specific enough. As well as the Tempest-inspired Hag-seed last year, 2015 saw the release of another dystopian sci-fi, The Heart Goes Last. 

the heart goes last.jpgThe Heart Goes Last tells the story of a married couple, Charmaine and Stan. Reading it in a post-Trump world, I was struck by how disturbingly believable Atwood’s vision of the poverty-stricken Rust Belt was. Stan and Charmaine live in their car, struggling to feed themselves and survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape. When an opportunity presents itself to enter a programme called Positron – in which participants are fed, clothed and housed in a settlement that is a kind of fifties version of the Hank Scorpio episode of The Simpsons, in exchange for pretending to be prison inmates half the time – Charmaine (who is something of a fantasist) persuades Stan to join.

Throughout The Heart Goes Last, I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was enjoying it or not. It’s certainly written with the liveliness of character and paciness of delivery of Atwood’s usual work, but I couldn’t quite get a handle on the plot. It’s very fact-paced, which is good, but there is so much going on in this post-econopocalptic, brainwashing, organ-farming world – and so much going on with Stan and Charmaine – that despite enjoying reading it, I felt that it was a little bit formless. It was like five dystopian novels rolled into one.

Another problem I had was with the character of Charmaine. I actually thought she was a convincing and believable character, and there was nothing per se wrong with the way she was written, but as a reader I couldn’t engage with her. I’m sure there will be many readers who feel very differently.

Without giving too much away, I also felt as if the ending was a bit “safe”, and shied away from what might have been quite a pleasingly disturbing conclusion.

All in all, this was an all-too-believable version of the future, with (I think) far too much going on in it. I would still recommend it to anyone who would like to prepare themselves for the post-Trumpian hellscape.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

Find this book on Amazon

Lavinia’s Books: May and June

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends. As Lavinia has been busy with the release of the last part of her Queen of the North trilogy, and with the upcoming paperback edition of the series, we’ve decided to put her May and June choices back-to-back.

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood

edible woman.jpgAn oldie, but a goodie. The Edible Woman is one of the older and less well-known of Atwood’s works, but it is by far my favourite. I’m slightly cheating because I re-read it rather than read it for the first time this month, but here it is.

The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian, a woman who works at a survey company and is engaged to Peter, a boring man who likes to have sex in the (dry) bathtub. She tries to run away from him (literally), is collected, scolded for being silly, and returns to her life. But the quiet frustrations of everyday sexism – microaggressions, perhaps we could call them now – wriggle under her skin, and Marian finds herself going progressively off her food.

The Edible Woman is a wonderful book, because it is so subtle. All of the little niggles and digs are small and everyday. There is nothing wrong per se with Peter. There is nothing wrong per se with Marian’s life. There’s something about her frustration which is so real, and something about the way it manifests – in the quiet refusal of more and more food – that is at once so real and immediate and so keyed in to a tradition hundreds of years old of women silently objecting to their circumstances by refusing to eat, from fasting nuns in the early middle ages to suffragettes in the early twentieth century. When you can’t control anything else, you can refuse to eat.

This book is also so much more than a feminist parable. It’s funny, it’s light, it’s ambiguous at the end – we are left with the question: who is trying to consume whom?

I would highly recommend this as a first Atwood for anyone who is yet to read her, one for Atwood lovers, and one to re-read. It’s perhaps the most mundane of her works in terms of subject matter (most similar in tone to Cat’s Eye), but in this ordinary setting she achieves so much. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like humour with an edge
– You have ever been a woman

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You secretly (or indeed openly) hate women


everyday sexism.jpgEveryday Sexism – Laura Bates

June’s Book of the Month is (!) a non-fiction book.

This book was lent to me by a kind and beloved friend, and I thought it would just be everything I knew, set out in nice neat statistic form. I’ve seen Laura Bates talk, and she presents a very clear-cut case. She’s angry – of course she is – and utterly sick of this shit, but she’s calm. Ordered. Logical. This book is the same. Broken up sensibly into neat categories and set out with factoids and headings, it is a very rational book.

I found it quite emotional to read. I expected to a little, but I was surprised by the toll certain sections took. Would I say it was a fun read? No, I don’t think I would, but it is an important one. To tackle a problem that affects all of us – because sexism is not just women’s problem – we must see it for what it is. Systemic.

You’ll love this book if:
– You’ve been dismissed in one too many conversations and told that ‘feminism is irrelevant’
– You don’t mind looking hard facts in the face
– You want to be armed with cold hard info the next time you get into an internet dispute with a Reddit neckbeard (jk; they don’t care about info)

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to sexual violence and harrassment triggers
– You have ever unironically used the #notallmen hashtag

lavinia collins authorLove Lavinia xoxo
Find The Edible Woman on Amazon
Find Everyday Sexism on Amazon