Review: Heart Goes Last

4 Feb

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relativity is a tricky, unfair sort of thing. If this was a debut, by an author whose name I’d never heard, I would’ve probably given it five stars. Well, maybe—difficult to say because I can’t approach this book without the knowledge of The Handsmaid’s Tale or the MaddAddam trilogy. Alas, we arrive at four stars.
I liked it—it made me laugh out loud, surprised me multiple times over once I thought I’d figured it out, and made me question myself—all things a good speculative Atwood book is supposed to do. Parts of it I loved—the heroine’s thoughts during the “procedures” she performs. The characters mull over thinnest veils of rationalization which prove to be almost indestructible, even faced with absurd tests,
But there are parts of it that just don’t quite meld together, leaving some sharp edges. Transitions are jarring, the world seems inconsistent, losing in its interior logic. The broken future/devasted economy/science gone amok world just isn’t as convincing as MaddAddam trilogy’s world, and the sexual tensions , fetishes, and “spaghetti” (to use her own word) isn’t as emotionally subtle and mature as that in The Handmaid’s Tale. At times, the twin protagonists seem almost teen-ager-like in their jealousy, hormones, and naiveté.
About half way through, I got the feeling that this was a trunked novel. A trunked novel of course is one that a writer writes early in his/her career that can’t quite compete and ends up being put aside for a while to be pulled out, dusted off, and published during a dry time later on. Stephen King pulls out trunked novels so often, his haunted-male-writer characters have started to do it, too. (See: Bag of Bones. Meta-trunked.) Nothing wrong with a trunked novel, but it’s just not going to have the same magic as the best work.
Of course, I don’t know if Heart Goes Last was really a trunked novel, but it is missing some of that magic. Perhaps missing some of the emotional gravitas to balance out the dark humor.
Still—definitely worth a read.

View all my reviews

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