Consilience = Cons + Resilience. Do time now, buy time for our future!
– Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last
A sinister, wickedly funny and deeply disturbing novel about a near future in which the lawful are locked up and the lawless roam free
Charmaine and Stan are young and in love. Victims of a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, they struggle to keep their relationship alive in the face of increasing poverty. Now living in their car, they survive on tips from Charmaine’s job at filthy dive bar, until the day they see an advertisement for a social experiment offering security, community, and a break from the daily grind of their current existence.
Leaving behind the uncertainty of their former lives, they sign themselves up for the perfectly manicured lawns of Consilience, with its stable jobs and protection from the increasingly unruly and angry population outside its walls. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – with a voluntary imprisonment.
But what seems at first to be a balancing act worth investing in for the safety of a permanent roof over their heads, soon turns into a nightmare of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire.
Margaret Atwood is a very well known name in the book world. With more than 40 titles to her name and multiple awards including the Man Booker, I have always found the idea of starting one of her books a little intimidating! When I saw The Heart Goes Last in the new releases catalogue, I requested a copy with mixed feelings! I am pleased to report that this will not be the last Atwood novel I will read; her storytelling is compelling, addictive and utterly enjoyable.
Charmaine and Stan are a married couple living out of their car since they lost their home and a string of jobs after a devastating economic collapse wipes out the American economy. Enticed by a new community where full employment and no-expense living is the draw card, Charmaine and Stan apply for a position within the walled duel town of Consilience and Positron. After accepting their position within the program, they are happy for a time maintaining their jobs and the perfect lifestyle that allow them to ignore the subtle forms of control at play. Life in Concilience involves spending every alternate month locked up in Positron (a prison) and each person’s ‘Alternate’ is released to enjoy their ‘normal’ life. When Charmaine and Stan become obsessed with their Alternates, the façade comes crumbling down and they get caught up in a web of betrayal and counter-betrayal in a bizarre plot to expose the system they are trapped within.
Atwood’s brand of speculative fiction is verging on the point of comic until you realise the plausibility of the situation. Her big brother-like dystopia depicts the way in which the most well-intentioned experiments fall prey to human greed and corruption. Atwood’s exploration of mankind’s ability to cope with impending (and possible) disaster is an articulate expression of our worst fears and anxieties. Freedom of expression, individuality and safety are all aspects of our lives that we enjoy and sometimes take for granted. The Heart Goes Last is a chilling look at what happens when those things are taken away.
I really enjoyed nearly every aspect of this book. Atwood’s language is such a pleasure to read and her world building is scarily convincing. However there was a point in the story where I felt like Atwood lost control of what had previously been a tightly maintained story. The last third became a little stranger than normal but I don’t think it detracted from the overall story. It is a book that reminds me of the movie The Truman Show and it is a fascinating one to get lost in. A great read!
AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!