Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last. God, but you have no idea how much I wanted to love this book; how excited I was when I first heard about it; how I actually danced around my living room when I finally got my hands on it back in the summer. You cannot beat a good bit of living room dancing. Or kitchen dancing: last night I danced around my kitchen to Kylie whilst cooking my tea (and then I had regrets because my back is the hurtiest this week omg) but I digress: my dancing skills or lack thereof are not what I am here for. 

The point is, I love Margaret Atwood. I have such an author!crush you don’t even know. I adore the woman. Actual feelings of adoration. I was so ready for this book to be all kinds of glorious because it sounds like everything I love about Margaret Atwood and everything that she does best.

A sinister, wickedly funny novel about a near-future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free

That’s what it’s being sold as and yep, sign me the hell up because you can’t beat a good dystopia and nobody does it like Atwood. This was going to be glorious: terrifying and shrewd and darkly funny and I could not wait. I was totally ready to read it and be all ‘but Margaret, how do you words.’

& you know what, it was all of those things. It really was, it’s just that…oh, I don’t even know. I have this woman on an honest to God pedestal and I had all of these (probably stupidly high) expectations and I was left feeling sort of deflated. I think I wanted it to be a little bit more The Handmaid’s Tale but it’s nowhere near that good, not even close. & that makes me the saddest.

It’s a bit like when I read The Year of the Flood and really loved it but didn’t love it as much as Oryx and Crake. I was sad about that too. I really loved Year of the Flood but still, I didn’t love it as much as Oryx and I had all the feelings about that. That said, somehow The Heart Goes Last did feel a little bit like The Blind Assassin does dystopia and everyone knows how much I love The Blind Assassin (AKA my fave Atwood EVER) so swings and roundabouts I guess, swings and roundabouts.

The story centres around a young married couple, Stan and Charmaine, living in their car and living off stale food, the key always in the ignition in case they need to make a quick getaway and all to eager to sign up for the Positron Project that promises them a brighter tomorrow, despite Stan’s brother’s promise that if they do they’ll only leave in a box (FORESHADWING ALERT). The whole premise is nuts, again: obviously. Who else could write this shit and make it believable, really? There’s a woman sexually attracted to a teddy bear (thanks to this procedure that programs people to fall in love with the first person they see when they wake up) and these sex-cyborg dolls (better than real) and a boat load of Elvis and Marylin Monroe impersonators, and there’s this city where people live a month in jail and a month ‘free,’ living the dream. Whilst they’re in prison another person, their ‘alternate’ takes their place, and vice versa and so much stuff goes on that it kind of makes your brain hurt :blink:

It’s fucking nuts.
It’s Margaret Atwood.
It’s like a really mental version of Pleasantville.

It’s weird, and when somehow – quite without the other realising – Stan and Charmaine find themselves embroiled in a plot to bring Positron down from the inside it gets crazier still and I love that. I love the premise, I love the story, I love the characters - the characterisation is excellent, obviously (and probably that’s where my whole The Blind Assassin comparison comes from because that book is such a character study and I love it so hard) but of course it is: this is Atwood, this is what she does - and I love the potential that I could see in the whole thing. I’m just really sad that it didn’t quite reach it you know?  I think a major point is, is that there’s so much dystopia around these days – all dystopia all the time - and there’s a risk of it becoming a little samey you know? With The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood had the chance to show she was still at the top of her game, to be the one to take that next step, to give us something utterly original and whilst she did, she also didn’t.

What you may or may not know about The Heart Goes Last is that it’s edited into a novel from a serial that was originally published a few years ago and you can totally tell – the editing shows I think, it’s kind of badly sewn together in places. I mean don’t get me wrong here, it  has the social commentary  you come to expect from Atwood’s work, it’s as satirical as her stuff usually is and yep, it makes you think, but whereas I believed utterly in Handmaid’s and MaddAddam, I believed in this a little less and that surprised me. Atwood’s ‘speculative fiction’ is usually so freaking excellent because you can totally imagine it happening, can see it being just a short step away from wherever we are now; it has that ‘holy fuck what are we doing to the world if we don’t stop everything will go to shit and we’ll all be eating chickienobs’ quality to it. I didn’t get that feeling here, not in the same way. Not enough is explained, not enough is shown, the editing is sort of shoddy and whereas Atwood is usually so good at the tiny details that grab you and hold you and awaken your imagination, here, a lot of that is missing. It feels, and I can’t believe I am saying this, rushed. Also Margaret, where is my strong female protagonist please? This book was crying out for a woman that did not make me want to shake her.

I can’t believe I’m even saying all this. I feel like a house elf right now, like I have to go and smack myself in the face. 

All of the above said, Margaret Atwood is incredibly good at what she does, she’s so very very socially aware, she’s observant, and she’s a really freaking good writer. I guess when it comes down to it, the truth of the matter is that I felt a bit let down. Le sigh.
I mean, you should read it, you should because it’s not bad (it’s good)  and it’s not boring and some parts made me laugh out loud, but it’s nowhere near her best, and if you’ve not read any Atwood before then holy smokes but don’t let this be the place you start. 

(Start with The Handmaid’s Tale because Margaret, how do you words.)