Wednesday 26 October 2016

Novel: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Virago, €11.99

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 10/10/2016 | 02:30

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

This strange offering comes from Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who's incapable of being dull, and is another in her trademark speculative visions of the future, after The Handmaid's Tale.

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The world has become a "festering scrap heap... people are starving. Scavenging, pilfering, dumpster-diving."

Charmaine and Stan are living in their car, struggling to survive financially and literally as feral gangs roam the city.

Then she sees an advertisement offering a new life with something called the Positron Project.

Here, participants get to spend alternate months in a nice, safe house with all their needs provided for, and the other in prison. In that month, another couple takes their place, but they must never meet.

Charmaine and Stan sign up, despite warnings from his brother Conor that he's "heard stuff" about the place and that no one gets out of there, "except in a box, feet first".

Though what have they signed up to? That's a problem for them, but also for the reader, because it's never entirely clear what the thinking behind the project is.

Of course, it's satire (there are even "sex bots" that look like Elvis); but if the reader can't believe in this world then nothing that happens in it ultimately matters.

The Heart Goes Last is all about freedom, and whether getting what you want makes you happy. Stan eventually decides that he wants to escape this sterile Stepford nightmare. How they attempt to do so makes an amusing indulgence, but it simply doesn't stand comparison with Margaret Atwood's best work.

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