I dunno, Margaret Atwood. I used to love you. But I have to confess: I'm not a big fan of this book.
There's been some discussion over at the Tournament of Books about this book, since it had its first round this week. It seems to be a "love it or hate it" book; what most can agree on is that Atwood is such a topnotch writer overall that even her weaker efforts are better than many other writers could hope for as their best.
But that still doesn't overcome the fact that, for me, this is one of her weaker efforts.
Maybe it's because I'm kind of tired of speculative fiction, or that I cringed at the "hymns" that are included as part of the Gardeners' religion, or that I cringed even harder when I learned that the hymns had been set to music, performed as part of the book's tour, and even recorded on CD.
But still, it was Margaret Atwood, so I tried to keep an open mind. Some of the writing is wonderful, such as on the very first page:
"There still is life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there's no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice that quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier? Toby has no idea. Unlike some of the other Gardeners--the more wild-eyed or possibly overdosed ones--she has never been under the illusion that she can converse with birds."
Sometimes it's a bit heavy-handed:
"Adam One sighed. 'We should not expect too much from faith,' he said. 'Human understanding is fallible, and we see through a glass, darkly. Any religion is a shadow of God. But the shadows of God are not God.'"
And other times, particularly in the naming of companies in this alternate universe, it's just downright silly and gimmicky. Anoo Yoo spa? SeksMart? Really? That's the best she could do?
Not to mention the saints worshipped by the Gardeners: Euell Gibbons, Dian Fossey, Chico Mendes, David Suzuki, and Peter Matthiessen. Cutesy and over-the-top at the same time.
It's almost as if Atwood was having so much fun making all this stuff up that she stopped to think how it would come across to readers.
I haven't bothered to summarize the plot, which is fairly predictable and has more than a few unbelievable coincidences. Some people have loved this book; I'm not one of them. Has Atwood become one of those "big" authors whose editors are now afraid to critique? That's a shame.