The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

This novel was everything you expect from a Margaret Atwood novel. An imaginative dystopian world, a witty critique of modern society and some great humour mixed in with the warning about human nature.

The Heart Goes Last is about Stan and Charmaine, a couple living in a futuristic world (not too dissimilar from our own) where everything has gone pretty wrong. Stan has lost his job and Charmaine has managed to hang on to hers, but only just. They are living in their car, not knowing where their next meal will come from and wondering how they went from dreaming about their hopeful future together, to living day by day, not knowing what awful challenge will be next. That is until they are offered the definitely-too-good-to-be-true chance to live in a wonderful new house with new jobs and the promise of security, inside a state of the art compound called Positron. The catch? Every alternate month they must don an orange jumpsuit and live in Positron prison. And while they live inside the prison, their Alternates live in their house and do their jobs.

In typical Atwood style, everything is going swimmingly, until it’s not, and soon the doubts and pressures start to creep in. It doesn’t take long for Charmaine and Stan to lose sight of the honeymoon phase of their Positron life, and their relationship comes under strain. Charmaine begins a passionate love affair with their Alternate, the man who lives in their house while Charmaine and Stan are in Positron Prison, and Stan is left to fantasise about the female Alternate.

This is only the beginning of a downward spiral, that allows Atwood to question our attitude towards free will and our moral compass. What do we value more: security and comfort or personal freedom? Which world would we choose to live in: Positron or the mess that is left ‘outside’?

Charmaine’s job in prison is within the Positron hospital and one of her key responsibilities is to administer the Procedure. This is a thinly veiled way of getting rid of ‘undesirables’- criminals, or more correctly, people who won’t adhere to Positron rules. Charmaine is not particularly troubled by this job – in fact, she takes pride in her ability to do the job well. You’re left to wonder, would I succumb to such unquestioning obedience in similar circumstances?

Atwood also touches on some topics that are very relevant because such things already exist. One thing in particular that freaks me out (especially because they exist in real life!) is the production and sale of possilibibots, or prosibots as they are more aptly referred to. These robots that exist purely for people to have sex with, truly make me question: what the hell is wrong with people?!! It frightens me that there is actual demand for this sort of thing.

As usual, Atwood delivers a sharp and imaginative critique of modern society and holds up a mirror to our own actions and their consequences. The Heart Goes Last is a compelling read that asks questions, right up until the very end, so you are never a passive reader. If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction, you’ll like this.

 

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