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 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.
Reviewed by Louise