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. (synopsis from Goodreads)
Overall Impression: Atwood has done so much better.
While not as disappointing as Maddam, I was still rather underwhelmed by this book. It started off all right, but it eventually got to the point where I wasn’t totally sure what this book was. Is is supposed to be serious or black humor? There were points in the book where the premise seemed so outlandish that it felt a little comical, but not quite. It was confusing.
There are practically no redeeming qualities to any of the characters, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out if we were supposed to like them or not. I’m going to go with not, since there was just no way I could. I mean, I imagine that if I am faced with a world like the one that they end up having to live in, I wouldn’t be a very pleasant either, but I get the feeling that they were like this before the economy goes kablooey.
I also couldn’t help but feel that men were dealt a really shitty card in this book. Not one man in this book was a decent person, and all of them felt the desire to essentially rape women. I don’t believe this to be a particularly fair depictions of men, but everyone was horrible in this book, so I guess is just goes with the tone.
Many of the issues that are brought up are interesting, and I will admit that there are moments make you think. The ending was conflicting. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to see that as a happy ending or not. Part of if feels like yes, but then the very end makes me question that. Mostly, I see it as a creepy ending that I could never view as happy. So I guess my confusion is on how Margaret Atwood intended it to come across. It almost comes off as bitter sweet, but I’m thinking that it’s all bitter.
Many of my grievances can’t be aired in an non-spoiler review, but I guess the best way to sum up this book would be that it had its moments of brilliance that make you question humanity, and the lengths that humans are willing to go for the appearance of peace, and profit? How much of our freedom are we willing to give up for comfort?
I believe that Atwood asked and addressed some important questions in this book. However, the presentation was, at times, sub-par. Atwood has written much better work than this, and this latest book seems a little unfocused and lacks the depth that much of her earlier work is famous for.