May 01, 2007

Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake was begun in March, 2001. I was still on a book tour for my previous novel, The Blind Assassin, but by that time I had reached Australia. After I'd finished the book-related events, my spouse and I and two friends travelled north, to Max Davidson's camp in the monsoon rain forest of Arnheimland. For the most part we were bird-watching, but we also visited several open-sided cave complexes where Aboriginal people had lived continuously, in harmony with their environment, for tens of thousands of years. After that we went to Cassowary House, near Cairns, operated by Philip Gregory, an extraordinary birder; and it was while looking over Philip's balcony at the red-necked crakes scuttling about in the underbrush that Oryx and Crake appeared to me almost in its entirety. I began making notes on it that night. (says Margaret)

“Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once called Jimmy, now calls himself Snowman and lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.”

Welcome to the outrageous imagination of Margaret Atwood.

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat. Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons, with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. As Crake used to say,
Think of an adaptation, any adaptation, and some animal somewhere will have thought of it first.
Since it’s only the blue tissue and the pheromones released by it that stimulate the males, there’s no more unrequited love these days, no more thwarted lust; no more shadow between the desire and the act. Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet. At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left. Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quarter find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades. And that is that.
No more No means yes, anyway, thinks Snowman.”

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