This morally provocative fable is the Canadian author's first standalone novel for 15 yearsby Serena Kutchinsky / September 4, 2015 / Leave a comment
These days when a significant literary novel is published, it’s title becomes a hashtag before it even hits the shelves. Twitter is currently buzzing with sneak peeks of the futuristic cover of Margaret Atwood’s new novel, her first standalone offering for 15 years. Aged 75, the Canadian author’s prodigious bibliography already stretches to an impressive 40 novels, short stories and poetry collections. She has also proved herself to be the literary world’s digital doyenne, racking up 851k Twitter followers and basing her latest work on a series of well-received e-books she first published in 2013.
In The Heart Goes Last, she returns to familiar dystopian territory, setting the novel in an only slightly futuristic post-economic collapse America. Written in her signature “speculative fiction” style, it imagines a world where the problems of inequality, unemployment and housing shortages are solved by herding hapless citizens into souped-up prison colonies where they alternate between being the inmates and the guards. Throughout her career Atwood has argued vehemently against the label “science fiction” being applied to her work. Her argument is that her books are not peopled by supernatural phenomena such as aliens or dragons. Instead they depict plausibly alternative realities where disturbing events intermingle with human tales of love, sorrow and family ties.
In this new work the main protagonists Charmaine and Stan are living a pitiful existence. They’ve lost their home, their jobs and most of their dignity. Crammed into their car in a state of constant anxiety, with little spare cash, no space for sex and with their relationship and lives fast disintegrating they sign up to take part in a social experiment. Consilience is a suburban paradise with a twist—they have to surrender their freedom for a prison cell every other month and trade places with a shadowy pair of “alternates”. At first it seems almost too good to be true, and in true Atwood style it is. Once the seeds of discontent are skilfully planted and our anti-heroes shed their innocence, the full grotesqueness and complexity of their reality is laid bare.