Footnotes: Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

With Wayne McGregor and Max Richter collaborating with the Booker Prize-winner on an adaptation of her MaddAddam trilogy, now’s the time to get stuck into Oryx and Crake.



What is the book?

Prolific Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood was no stranger to near-future dystopia by the Noughties, but while much is made of the worrying prescience of The Handmaid’s Tale, there are elements of 2003 novel Oryx and Crake that feel concerningly pertinent, too.

Oryx and Crake are the names of two doomed lovers: Oryx is a porn star, Crake is a bioengineer with terrifying intentions. Caught between them is Jimmy, a copywriter and Crake’s childhood friend, who is left as one of a handful of humans in the post-apocalyptic world they leave behind. 

But while Jimmy lacks human company, he is not alone: Crake’s legacy are the Crakers, biologically engineered humanoids who are calm, peaceful and maintain plant-free diets. Sounds ideal, aside from the fact that Crake also invented a kind of Viagra that has sterilisation qualities – and caused a global pandemic, that led to the demise of the human race.  

Bittersweet and perturbing, Oryx and Crake rightfully won Atwood a Booker Prize nomination. Even in 2003, critics were horrified and impressed in equal measure by the future it predicted. It went on to inspire two more books, The Year of the Flood in 2009 and MaddAddam in 2013, which became known as the MaddAddam trilogy.

Why talk about it now?

Aside from the global pandemics, political talk of eugenics and perennial fears over population rates, last week, it was announced that Atwood was collaborating with choreographer Wayne McGregor and composer Max Richter to create a new ballet inspired by the MaddAddam trilogy. Both The Royal Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada will participate in a production that will jump off from the trilogy’s themes of 'extinction and invention, hubris and humanity', which will be 'spliced together with aspects of Atwood’s non-fiction writings and political voice'. 

The production will open in November.


If you, too, are amazed by Atwood’s ability to look into the near-future, you may take heart from what she was brought up against. There were several scientists within the author’s family, and she recalled the topics of conversation at Christmas dinner to be 'intestinal parasites or sex hormones in mice, or, when that makes the non-scientists too queasy, the nature of the Universe.'

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