“I don’t read that sort of book.”
I hear a lot of that.
Some people don’t read crime books, while others avoid James Patterson-type thrillers.
People in their millions across the world rushed to read 50 Shades of Grey and at the same time, millions more mocked it for being trash – despite (probably) never having read it.
I try not to have a type of book – although will admit a preference to fiction over non-fiction, on the basis that I like stories, but stories don’t exclusively exist in a made-up narrative, so I occasionally dabble.
This is not one of those times.
I read The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood at the request of a friend of mine who absolutely adored it.
I’d never read a Margaret Atwood previously; I’d always considered her books “not my type of book”.
However, in the last few years, I’ve considerably expanded my palate and since I’d read The Goldfinch and A Little Life and enjoyed both, I thought maybe now was the time I should give Atwood a go.
The Heart Goes Last tells the story of Stan and Charmaine, a married couple living in their car in a dystopian future. They see an advertisement for a new initiative, a new, Utopian city where everyone’s happy, everyone has a home, and nobody’s hungry.
The only catch is that every other month the citizens have to swap places with their counterparts who are living in a prison. Their new, perfect lives are a timeshare.
Reading the book made me realise how much I had misjudged Margaret Atwood. It was nothing like I had thought it to be, it was nothing like A Little Life or The Goldfinch.
The Goldfinch was the saga of a young boy’s ascent into adulthood, A Little Life was a simple exploration of love between men, The Heart Goes Last was a clever premise gone wrong.
It races from one clever idea to another. The dystopian future is explored briefly, but that’s forgivable since every other novel has done it to death, and the point of this story was not the future, but the escape from it.
And then the escape comes and we barely scrape the surface of it before it becomes a novel about escaping that. The last third of the novel ends up in Vegas where Stan ends up living with a group of Elvis impersonators, and becomes one of them. By this point, the dystopian future is completely forgotten about.
It has many ideas, and they do raise a lot of moral questions. However these questions that are not explored in any great detail and nor do they offer any answers.
Ultimately, this is the type of book that people who want to seem clever read, but it isn’t actually clever.
Atwood has several ideas here that if properly expanded upon could become novels in their own right instead of this lightweight, un-funny, farce.
Needless to say, I’m not rushing to read any more Margaret Atwood books.