There is always a scramble in the bookstores and online when Atwood brings out another of her books; this one was no exception. With Brooker’s Black Mirror haunting anyone watching it on Netflix, The Heart Goes Last would fit right into a chilling episode.
This is probably not the book to start on if Atwood is new to you – her classics being the likes of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. However, this new book is engaging and frightening in its close-to-the-bone commentary on our current society. So much so, I had to put the book down for a week as I did not want it to end.
In a state of homelessness, against the backdrop of a country in economic turmoil, protagonists Charmaine and Stan sign up for Consilience – an experiment in society. Even the beginning hooked me. Atwood has the eerie ability to hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing about what matters now in the world. Stan and Charmaine could be anyone. Two wanting-to-work individuals caught out by the lack of jobs and money in their community.
Consilience feels like a dream, a new slate. For two months, they live in a happy 1950s-esque society filled with stuffy TV shows and happy faces. The next two, they swap it for the prison, where their jobs change. During that time, their ‘Alternates’ live in their shoes in their house and then swap to the prison when Stan and Charmaine come out after two months. Seems perfect? As with a great deal of Atwood…far from it!
Very soon Consilience starts to echo the totalitarian values of Stalin’s Communism or perhaps close to our own modern society of cameras and CCTV.
Soon, you have fallen down the Atwood rabbit hole full of Elvis and Marilyn sex robots, mass surveillance, patriarchy, sexuality and exploitation of identity. And look out for that blue teddy bear! There is always something hypnotic about Atwood’s prose and the way she weaves her themes throughout until they burst out of the pages, along with the chilling realisation that this is not so far from the world we live today.
About the reviewer
Leonie Sturman is an English teacher specialising in teaching A-Level Creative Writing, and a part-time writer. She sometimes delves into performing her work in the sleepy county of Suffolk, often exploring the darker aspects of femininity and society ills.