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Book Review- The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Husband and wife, Stan and Charmaine, are victims of an economic downturn. Their house has been repossessed, Stan has lost his job and they live on Charmaine’s meagre earnings as a waitress. Their home is their car and their nights are fraught with fear as marauding hoodlums scan the neighbourhood for any vehicle that still works.

Desperate for any form of normality, Charmaine responds to an advert, a private social project called ‘Consilience/Positron,’ however there is a catch. The system requires the residents to spend one month in town before swapping places with their ‘alternates’ where they will then spend one month in prison. At first this seems like a small price to pay for job security and a home, especially as there are other inmates who are also residents as opposed to hardened criminals.

Over time, even Stan feels that he has been “duped to do the work while others roll around in the cash.” Unable to leave the complex, 'except in a box, feet first,' the residents and inmates are expected to work to generate revenue for the company that runs Consilience/Positron.

Atwood begins to reveal the dark and morally corrupt underbelly of corporate greed that belies the whole system while also questioning the concept of free will. There are two opposing forces at play throughout the novel; the powerful corporate world of positron Vs the powerless individual. These themes allow Atwood to explore the extent of our willingness to give up our freedom for basic creature comforts to create wealth for the benefit of someone else.

Margaret Atwood’s novel was originally written as an e-book serial and may explain the roller coaster ride of varying styles. The novel initially appears to criticise society and highlights the failure of a capitalist system. Such a comment on society is implied by Atwood’s description of a dystopian America before the novel takes a turn and becomes a farcical romp, complete with lookalike Elvis’s and Marilyn’s. While the story line may seem quite far-fetched by the time the novel concludes, the humour is dark and wonderfully entertaining.

Review by Rachel Boser

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