Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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I received a copy from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Title: The Heart Goes Last
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Stars: 4/5

Summary (from Goodreads): Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

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Atwood takes the reader on a veritable roller coaster ride in her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. In classic Atwood style, she has created a world that is downright frightening. The alternating perspectives add depth to the story and the development of the characters. However, the sexual content that appears in the story goes a little bit too far for my taste.

When the novel begins, the time is set not too far into our present day society. The two main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are destitute and living on the edge in an old relic of a car. These scenes are so vividly depicted that I had an actual nightmare about having to live like Stan and Charmaine! The events that lead to the couple living in a car in a terrifying world are so believable and realistic that it makes the reader question if this could easily happen to anyone. Also, once Stan and Charmaine believe that they have climbed out of a hole, this so-called utopian world inside Consilience turns into its own sort of terror as the story progresses. I really felt as though Atwood lead me up a steep hill and then jerked me into a completely new direction just as I was getting comfortable with the story. The brilliance in her writing is just that way.

As this novel has been written from the perspective of two characters, the reader gets a real sense of the inner workings of two brains. Stan and Charmaine are a couple that really seem like polar opposites. It gives the reader a chance to understand all of the differing view points and also helps to give greater detail to the world within the novel. Without spoiling the plot, this different outlook allows the reader to really delve deep into the Consilience society and the aftermath that occurs once the ride begins.

Although I enjoyed this book and appreciate the fantastic writing and world building, the sexuality that made its way into the plot went in a direction that made me uncomfortable. I suppose that this is exactly Atwood’s goal here, to make the reader squirm. There are certainly some unique sexual practices in the novel. Let’s just say that if reading books that have sexual deviance in them bothers you, you may not enjoy certain aspects of this story.

The Heart Goes Last is an incredibly written novel that takes the reader deep into a scary world in the not-too-distant future. The alternating perspectives add layers to the plot that gives the reader a detailed view of the characters and events. This novel does, however, contain a large amount of sexual content that some may find disturbing. Atwood has certainly created a work of speculative fiction here, as the reader definitely has lots to ponder with this book!

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