The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood | Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.3)
As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
If there’s one thing that can be said about Margaret Atwood’s writing, it’s that it’s poetic and dreamy and is just a gorgeous spot in literature. I’ve always particularly enjoyed the feminist themes to her work and admire the voice that comes with it. The Heart Goes Last promises to be exactly what you’d expect for a look into dystopian by Atwood, except maybe a little weirder than usual and rough around the edges.
As for Atwood, she’s one of the best authors out there and I’ve always believed I could probably read a variation of the phone book by her and still enjoy it. But now I can’t help but think that maybe I’m wrong.
It’s just that while I love her mind, I love her words and I love what she creates when combining the two, she is bound to not hit the target from time to time. I mustn’t put that sort of pressure on an author.
Although The Heart Goes Last isn’t her greatest work to date, it’s not a total lost cause and I think it will reach a pretty large audience and satisfy their needs. There’s plenty that happens in it and its dark tone; while it wasn’t always my cup of tea, longtime fans will enjoy it regardless.
This isn’t your typical dystopian novel. I was interested in the world, really I was. It’s dark and a lot is treated rather offhandedly; painting a picture that at times is grotesque and other times like a fever dream. Margaret Atwood is, sadly, a bit hit or miss this time around.
While the concept is colorful and humorous in the ways only a dark comedy can be, it often brings my skin to a crawl and makes me side eye the entire thing. In particular the sexual violence and the way men in Atwood’s work often work with their desire.
There’s something familiar about it, there’s something offensive and captivating throughout the tone.
Taking place in a distant future, we see a world not unlike our own but still aged quite differently in which the economy has completely collapsed on itself (or as I originally wanted to say: totally shit all over itself) and complications arise for ordinary folk.
Life is dangerous and there’s plenty that can harm a person in this world.
There were many flaws in it. It had promise, but there was so much wrong with it. That’s my number one thought I’d like to clear up for you, readers–there were a lot of flaws that surprised me. Maybe my hopes were to high for it, but there was a lot in it that let me down.
I have to admit I was pretty confused and shocked by some bits and completely intrigued by others. I kept pausing and restarting my reading of it. In parts, Margaret pulls me in one direction and the next another one entirely. And because of this I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel other than conflict and toyed emotions.
That being said I felt triggered by quite a lot (the themes of sexual violence, for example but not limited to) and other times felt numb towards the darkness of it all. I don’t recommend this to you if you’re effected by topics such as that.
For me, saying that I had mixed feelings when it came down to this novel would be an understatement–while it wasn’t terrible and while it was a captivating read, while her writing is as gorgeous as ever, there was a lot that turned me off and left me feeling rather disappointed.
We meet Charmaine and Stan who are, to put it lightly, struggling to survive in this world. Their story isn’t uncommon but the twists and turns that come with this world makes matters a lot darker for them. Prepare yourselves to either love them or hate them, individually or together.
It was a strange and interesting concept that came into play, though. Where there lives took them. Essentially, they trade off via schedule with another couple when it comes to living in their home. Skipping forward, the contract/deal is also that they must rotate spending time in prison.
Dash in sex dolls, oddly placed Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley impersonators, reprogramming procedures, a whole lot of mysteries and sexual content and something of an uprising… and you get… well… whatever this novel is up to.
I know, right? It was weird.
What I felt mostly, in this novel and while observing these characters, was frustration. I felt like I was reading characters who are very unlikable, in a gross world, doing incredibly shitty things to others and themselves.
Correct me if I’m wrong? It just didn’t flow in the way that I wanted it to–it didn’t capture much of my attention and it just felt awkward. I didn’t find the characters interesting; I found the world dark and intriguing in all the wrong ways, but when putting the two together it just felt off and like something was missing.
It just wasn’t enough.
Normally, in a lot of works, I can find myself attracted to the mind of characters that are cruel or villains or just generally the anti-hero. Flaws are great. Characters don’t have to be squeaky clean and kind to make good characters.
They just have to come alive before our eyes and make us intrigued in even their darkest moments.
When your characters first thoughts are of killing each other, and you don’t build onto the why’s and the how’s and the characteristics more than it, I’m going to have a problem with the story you are trying to tell.
Even if it’s a Black Comedy, even if I’m not supposed to be sympathetic towards them, I’m going to roll my eyes.
There’s just… there has to be more.
The Heart Goes Last failed me in providing something more. But that doesn’t mean it will fail you, too. It could be as simple as it just wasn’t my favorite novel; that I was being too hard on it or that I just didn’t get it.
And that is okay.
Ultimately for me, this is a rarity in Atwood’s catalog. It’s not that it’s the worst release of the year, it just didn’t fit. I didn’t connect with it the way that I have with her previous work. I truly, completely, wish that I loved it. But I didn’t.
It could have been worse, it could have been better. I wish it had.
Her writing is still as golden as it should be, I highlighted a few bits here and there in the rare moments it shined, but something was missing in her characters and ultimately that is what ruined it for me and what is holding me from giving it a higher rating.
Something I just can’t explain.
I felt nothing more than indifference towards it for much of the time. Perhaps, years down the line, I’ll reread it and give it another chance; but for me, for now, it just wasn’t for me.