After reading “The Handmaid’s Tale“, I was curious to read other books by Margaret Atwood. Out of the numerous books written by Atwood, I chose “The Heart Goes Last” without knowing anything about it. It caught my eye during an online purchase from Nautilus, a local English bookshop in Bucharest, and right after that I was recommended to read it.

In the meantime I also bought “Hag-Seed”, mostly because it is a modern retelling of “MacBeth” by Shakespeare. I also plan to read “The Testaments”. Soon. Now let’s get back to “The Heart Goes Last”.

The Heart Goes Last in a nutshell

“The Heart Goes Last” (published in 2015) tells the story of Charmaine and Stan, a couple in a desperate situation. Despite having well-paid jobs only few months earlier, the acute economic crisis rendered them homeless, living in their own car. One day, they see an ad for Consilience (also known as “Positron Project”), a ‘social experiment’ – the program offered stable jobs and a home in return for their freedom every second month. One month of normal life, one month in prison.

Image from ft.com

Overall impression

I have mixed feeling about this book. On one hand, it was an entertaining read, raising witty questions and putting things into perspective. On the other hand, I consider it was a light read, with some bizarre elements (in the weird way, not though-provoking way). One example, to make myself clear – Elvis sex robots. No other spoilers, read the story if you want to find out about them.

One thing is for sure: it was an interesting read during the beginning of Covid19 pandemic, while the world seemed to collapse. The idea of freedom was ever more important, given the lockdown and social distancing restrictions.

Disturbingly not impossible

What is scary about Atwood’s novel is that it does not sound impossible. Two people with stable and decently-paid jobs in Healthcare and Robotics live in a house for which they need to pay the mortgage loans. A total economic breakdown comes unexpectedly, driving people to the brink. A “magical” solution appears, in the form of a social experiment. To me, it does not sound beyond the bounds of possibility.

On the topic of possible / impossible, it seems that the internal logic in terms of financial efficiency does not quite hold (Financial Times, 2015). The economic aspects of the social experiment are not bulletproof, considering the hypotheses mentioned in the story.

Readable and fast-paced

The story is very readable. It has short chapters and the action is fast-paced – the 400+ pages can be easily read during a weekend. What kept me hooked on were the plot twists and unusualness of the story – the idea of a ‘social experiment’ is an intriguing one, especially when the story is placed during contemporary times.

After reading the book I found out that Atwood published several “Positron” stories that were previously published as a series of novellas (Bustle, 2015). The book is actually a “reworking” of these stories. The book covers of the series are quite kinky, aren’t they?

Positron series published Byliner

Wrap-up

To conclude, “The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood is a dystopian story that illustrates the compromise between freedom and surveillance, instability and captivity, social innovation and chilling happenings. I recommend to read it if you’re looking for a readable book and if you’re into social experiments that turn out badly.

At times, “The Heart Goes Last” reminded me of “The Circle” by Dave Eggers – even though the context was different (there was a technology-related dystopia), the core idea is the same: a promising closed world gone wrong.

‘Till next time … happy reading!

Georgiana

10 thoughts on “A dystopian social experiment – would you exchange freedom for stability? : The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (book review)

    1. I’m glad you like the review! 🙂
      You’re right, I haven’t thought about it from this point of view – the one month normal life, one month in prison could be a metaphor for the in and out lockdown. That’s an awesome insight, thanks for sharing it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am just discovering the books of Atwood, the 2 stories I read are on very different sides of the spectrum. I’m really curious if the next ones will be closer to my reading preferences 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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