Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

3star

Title: The Heart Goes Last

Author:  Margaret Atwood

Rating: 3/5 stars

Series? No

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Note: I received this book from Allen & Unwin in exchange for an honest review.

It’s been a really long time since my last Margaret Atwood book (The Handmaid’s Tale) – this one is completely different from my previous experience. In fact, the book is so wacky, high on both sex and depraved characters, my poor gray brain could barely compute it. But here goes my attempt at a review.

The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood

That didn’t last though. The happiness. The safeness. The now.

The book follows Charmaine and Stan, who inhabits a near-future where social order has collapsed due to some sort of economic crisis. Like many others, Stan is left jobless – while Charmaine’s gig as a waitress is barely covering their coffee bills, let alone rent. When we meet them, the married couple has been living in their cars for months, in constant fear of vandals and rapists and thugs and worse. Needless to say, when they are recruited by Consilience to become test subjects for an outlandish social experiment, the two jump at the chance to sleep in a real bed once more. All they have to do in exchange for their new life is to live in prison every alternate month.

DO TIME NOW, BUY TIME FOR OUR FUTURE. CONSILIENCE = CONS + RESILIENCE.”

I went into this book expecting a linear plot, which goes a long way to explain my bewilderment as events unfolded. Charmaine and Stan share their suburban paradise with an unseen Alternate couple, who they both become sexually obsessed with in time. Charmaine puts on a front as the nice, sunny girl next door – but her infidelity brings out a darker side of her psyche. Similarly, Stan’s own reality is rocked when he finds out about his wife’s misdeeds and the truths about his own desires.

He knows what they’re making at Possibilibots. Replica women; slut machines, some call them… Maybe all women should be robots, he thinks with a tinge of acid: the flesh and blood ones are out of control.

The story then quickly dissolves into a mess of sex(ual violence) and capitalism, with a dash of social commentary bubbling in there somewhere, in amongst all of the ridiculousness. We see sex in every form: between humans, with chickens, with blue teddy bears, with sexbots (modeled to look like Elvis and Marilyn, along with the realistic and sickening kiddybot line), there’s  even sexual slavery via lobotomy. I don’t really get the point to all of the campiness. Was it to highlight the depravity of human nature? Or was it an attempt at dark comedy that fell flat on its face? I thought the book was going to explore the concept of free will and freedom, but I think the message really got lost in amongst all of the humour.

“Remember what your life used to be like? Before the dependable world we used to know was disrupted?

I felt the plot derailed from the original blurb by a couple of hundred miles – by half way through the novel, Consilience and the Positron society hardly seemed to matter. There are so many intriguing ideas that were left unexplored, making the book feel incomplete. We never get to see the point to the social experiment, we never see what eventuated of the euthanasia program that Charmaine helped instrumented, we never even get to see the rest of the world Atwood constructed.

He hadn’t recognised it when they’d been living together – he’d underestimated her shadow side, which was mistake number one, because everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.

It also didn’t help that I could not sympathise or understand any of the characters in this book. As I warned Jenna before she started Heart Goes Last, we have a cast composed of 100% dirtbags. Watching them struggle with their half baked moral dilemmas was bloody painful. This book actually reminds me why I love young adult fiction so much, many of the humans in adult books are painted as such unrepentant assholes for the sake of ‘realism’. My world view is not that bleak, sure I might be idealistic, but that’s why I am so at odd with the world and the people that inhabited Heart Goes Last.

I really wanted to love this book, so this review was very difficult for me to write. I think if you were looking for a unique dystopia and can handle a much darker spin, you might end up enjoying this one. However, the book derailed too much from its initial promise for me to engage in it.

31 thoughts on “Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

  1. I agree so much with your review. It was underdeveloped and the message about freedom and free will was never fully realised. Plus there were a lot of things that just came out of nowhere… like how did Ed even become obsessed with her? They’ve barely interacted with one another…

    I actually did not like a single one of the characters. Veronica is probably my favourite only because her situation is so ridiculous.

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  2. I’ve never read Margaret Atwood, but this review has turned me off the book. It sounds like a book where we as readers would have a difficult time relating to the characters. Then again I’m quite wary at dystopia type books, it takes a lot for me to decide to get into one. This one just sounds messy and too heavy for my present needs, which is light and fluffy distractions. I think I will stick to the romance and YA lit for the rest of the year 😀

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    • I think this is one you need to approach with an open mind haha, I see reviewers either loving it and proclaimed it genius or just getting confused and bored like I did. I am sure there’s some deep and meaningful social commentary in here somewhere, but I just thought the plot got quite messy. I do recommend her other works though.

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      • Yeah I’m just prolly not gonna attempt this title, my brain might not be able to compute it no matter how open minded I am lol. It sounds too heavy for my fluffy brain at the moment 😂

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  3. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, kind of makes me wonder if if I do end up reading it I’ll be disappointed because it’s been built up so much. It probably won’t be a book I pick up anytime soon though. I really liked your review, I think I’d probably end up agreeing with you on some of the points if I get round to reading this 🙂

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    • I think it’s one of those books that you’ll either love or hate – I think I was expecting a different book, so that’s why I was left with a bad impression. If you go in expecting an audacious dark comedy about freedom and capitalism I think you’ll end up liking it?

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      • I’ve never read any of Margaret Atwood’s books so I don’t know much about her writing style. If I get around to reading this book I’ll keep your review in mind, maybe if I go in expecting a dark comedy like you said it’ll be a good read.

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  4. Great, thorough review! I have this book on Netgalley but I haven’t been able to get to it yet. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about it, which is too bad because I loved The Handmaid’s Tale!

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  5. My last Margaret Atwood was a disappointment too so I wasn’t sure to pick this one. Thanks for the review! I can handle all kinds of dark, dirty and gore as long as there is a half decent plot. This one does not sound anything good.

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    • I have seen a lot of Atwood fans loving this book OR hating it, so it’s a mixed bag, I think it’s one you should check out for yourself if you enjoyed her previous offerings.

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  6. Aww that sucks you didn’t like this Atwood book. I’ve read Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake and really liked those! And I think I’m going to read The Blind Assassin too and see if that one’s good

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    • I’ve seen fans of Atwood either loving or hating this, so I will be really interested to see what you think, don’t be put off by my review – I am not smart enough to appreciate literary fiction XD

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    • I agree with the unique and disturbing bit XD This book just confused me overall – and I see that the reviews are very mixed -so I would wait on it, too!

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    • I think the plot turns and craziness can be a bit much if you weren’t expecting it haha. I’m pretty sure the sex had some sort of social commentary or deeper purpose but I WAS JUST SO CONFUSED XD

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  7. I haven’t read anything else from Atwood since The Handmaid’s Tale and a couple of her short stories – which were quite good and had a real underlying message to them. This book from what I’ve seen is perhaps a little *too* weird for me? I don’t know, I’m definitely curious, but also wary of just how bizarre the plot gets!

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