With The Handmaid’s Tale experiencing a remarkable resurgence on both screen and page, and the TV adaptation of Alias Grace also making waves, Margaret Atwood is having quite a moment. So it seems a good time to return to her writing, which I haven’t actually read since high school English class.
So I reached for her most recent novel, 2015’s The Heart Goes Last – but was sadly left a little underwhelmed.
It’s set in a near-future dystopia – yep, another one of those – after some kind of economic collapse that has thrown millions of people into unemployment and further widened the gap between rich and poor. We meet Stan and Charmaine, a young married couple sleeping in their car and living in fear of roving gangs of rapists. Then, they get an opportunity to be part of the Positron Project: a life inside a walled community, provided they agree to spend six months of every year labouring in a private prison.
It starts strong but once Stan and Charmaine enter Positron it becomes increasingly thematically muddled. There’s organ harvesting and Big Brother-style surveillance and brainwashing and slavery and sex robots and people dressed like Evlis and Marilyn Monroe – but there doesn’t appear to be any unifying point to the whole thing.