Fiction & Biography
llll HAW sci ll MARGARET ATWOOD
Oryx and Crake (Bloomsbury S‘lfi.$)€)) O...
In present day Toronto, the citizens must still be shaking their heads at how a virus which was sparked on another continent could have so quickly transformed their happy-go-lucky city into a virtual no- go area. The SARS scenario may have shocked the Canadian city to the core, but one of its inhabitants would have been less astonished. Margaret Atwood has written before of future horrors which seemed barely conceivable yesterday, so when science fact takes over the fiction, narrative seers such as Atwood can stand back and say, ‘well, I sort of told you so.’ Science may have provided some answers to life’s many questions, but as acronymic catastrophes such as SARS, AIDS and BSE have shown, it has often let us down when we needed it most.
In Atwood's brand of highly literate science fiction (she prefers to call it speculative fiction), the future is far from bright; it‘s here, it stinks and it's all pretty much the fault of those daft boffins and idiotic eggheads, both in and out of the labs. In Oryx and Crake, her new black vision of genetic experimentation gone way out of control, we meet Snowman (some kind of unholy cross between the Gruffalo and Gulliver), isolated in the
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Sweet and Tender Hooligan (Picador $712.99) C
Pattison’s tale is far from sweet
100 THE LIST :4 Mai. .‘tX:.~‘
You can imagine that Ian Pattison might regard Rab C Nesbitt as a curse as much as a blessing. His most famous creation enjoyed such enormous success that the boo/y eeJit in the string vest is now a cultural cliche. Pattison is Wise to underplay the z ssociation and the only reference you'll find in Sweet and Tender Hoo/Igan, his first proper novel. is a coy mention of a Nesbitt spin-off book he once wrote. After all, if you bought this one on the expectation of a chirpy knockabout comedy. you'd be sadly misled — if not downright distressed. There again, Pattison might need all the help he can get if he wants to shift a few copies because this is a very dull book. lt's the story of Albert Blaney. a Violent Paisley thug who fled Scotland when the going got tough and set about writing a book about his e><pI()its. Returning to reclaim his patch five years later, he discovers how many
Atwood welcomes us into a future of wolvogs and snats
woods having seemingly been left alone by surviving some global disaster.
Eventually, Snowman (the monster formerly known as Jimmy) decides enough is enough and seeks to return to the place where it all went wrong, for both himself and humanity. His parents had been employees for Organlnc, a farming community where no set of animals were deemed unfit for splicing — l for one, will be forever grateful to Atwood for sending me off to sleep with images of wolvogs and snats. Here, Jimmy befriends Crake and later meets Oryx, two characters named after extinct wildlife. Both are informed by and ultimately doomed to suffer at the hands of the sociological and scientific systems which rule this domain.
It’s easy to see some kind of ‘children are innocent, adults are evil‘ message surging through Oryx and Crake, but Atwood would never be so crudely simplistic. Written in bite-sized chunks within sub- chapters, the brevity is deceptive. Atwood’s tale is epic in scale and structure, and sees her replicating the wild invention and breadth of vision she displayed in her Booker-winning The Blind Assassin. This one won't get her on the Friends of GM Christmas-card list, but those who see sheer folly and dire threat in the acts done in the name of progress will bid her thanks.
of his criminal cornpadres he has embittered by going public. A trail of beating and murder ensues as 'the Surgeon' —— Blaney specialises in knife and hammer attacks ~ wr'ests control of the Glasgow underworld.
It seems Pattison has exchanged his ear for credible dialogue in favour of a crude sub~lmine Welsh vulgarity that neither rings true nor entertains. Blaney's endless references to his parents as the Cuntess and the Prick, for example. are unsavoury. unconVincing and unfunny.
But worse than that. the book drones on in sluggardly detail about events that ought to have been related with a brisk adrenaline punch Every line of speech gets a lengthy paragraph of subtextual interpretation. dragging the pace to a crawl. Ourte how it qualifies as ‘hilarious'. as the book Jacket implies. is a mystery. (Mark FlSllel
Classic novels revisited. This issue: The Witches
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Postscript On its American publication, the hock .vas challenged in V‘Jistcnsin courts because 'it desensitises children to crime related to 'x/ittticraft' First line test ‘li: lt’tll‘/l£1lf:'r. Witches always near silly black hat". and black (leaks. and they ride on broomsticks‘