In May, I gave away a copy of The Heart Goes Last to one of my newsletter followers (I do this monthly, check it out here: www.pktyler.com/giveaway). After I sent her a copy of the book I wandered into a used bookstore at the beach, thinking to pick up something mindless while my kids jumped in the waves, and there, like it had been waiting for me all its life, was a hardcover copy of The Heart Goes Last.
My heart skipped a beat. I’d been SO jelly of the person who won but trying to be an adult about not just buying myself more books. My kindle is overflowing, but I love real paper. So I bought it for the beach, not really light fare, but a delicious read non-the-less.
As usual, Atwood doesn’t disappoint with complex characters and even more complex situations. Her writing is at its sharpest here, with a near future reality where the economy has crumbled completely and people are desperate for anything that resembles a safe, productive life. Life in all her books, Atwood takes a stab at the question of personal responsibility and the corrosive nature of power, but in The Heart Goes Last she does so through exploring the question of freedom vs. safety.
It’s an interesting read that definitely explores a topical issue of personal freedom and autonomy. In the book, people sign on of the free will (this is something the powers-that-be repeat and make excruciatingly clear as if preparing themselves for a defence in a lawsuit) to live in a town that has been split in two. Half the population lives and works in the prison for a month where their labor is free and their lives are strictly controlled, and during the alternate months, these people live in the town, in a home they share with others who are on the opposite schedule. When in town, people are free to live and shop and work. No one is non-productive, no one is homeless, and there is no crime. But what have they traded? There’s also no privacy and no autonomy.
The book is interesting and I found it academically compelling, but the characters were unlikeable, every single one of them. This is something Atwood has done in the past (Oryx and Crake) but the story alway pushed me past the repellant characters. This time, the characters didn’t have much to redeem them, even from a plot perspective. It was unclear as to why these particular people were singled out and some of the actions taken didn’t seem logical, even after the big reveal.
In the end, I liked the book, I enjoyed reading it, but I can’t say I’d recommend it. There are many other Atwood books I would read first, this one is really only if you’re already a fan and looking for the mind opening experience her writing offers as opposed to a story to get lost in.