Here us the remarkable Margaret Atwood looking into the future in her latest novel, as she has done previously. Many of her predictions have come true in her lifetime, scary as they are. This time round, we are introduced to a married couple, Stan and Charmaine, who are living in their car. Stan has lost his job, and with the economic downfall they can see no alternative.
They are always fearful of being attacked during the night, as they try to make themselves comfortable. It seems like as miracle to them when they see an advertisement offering them work and accommodation if they would take part in a so-called “social” experiment. They grabbed at the chance. What did they have to do in return for this sudden bliss? Each second month they had to exchange their home for a prison cell. Stan and Charmaine could not see this as a problem being guinea pigs would take them into safety and security, and that’s what mattered to them in their parlous state.
When they grow fond of the couple who are living in their home in the alternate months, things begin to look perilous and they are set to worsen. “We need to smuggle somebody to the outside:” that is outside the Positron Project……..”you’ve been Phil these last few months, but now you’re going to be Stan again, just for a few hours. Then, after that, we can get you out.” This is when Atwood’s novel of a dream society becomes a nightmare. Earlier, prize-winning works like The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Blind Assassin” are much easier to follow than this new narrative.
Not being able to recommend a Margaret Atwood novel worries this reviewer, a small-town critic, not loving her narratives as before, seems impertinent in the extreme. But such is the case. Reading her wonderful prose has always been rewarding, thought-provoking and full of material for discussion, but The Heart Goes Last fulfils none of that promise, so it is a great disappointment to me personally. Please, not your last book, but hopefully the last one which looks into the bleak future.
THE HEART GOES LAST by MARGARET ATWOOD
PUBLISHED by BLOOMSBURY for a recommended $32.99