The History Woman's Blog

Love and Death in Dystopia

Posted in Dystopia, literature, Reviews by thehistorywoman on January 16, 2017

theheartgoeslastHow desperate do you have to be to sign up for a social experiment that promises you a comfortable life at the expense of your freedom?

Young couple Stan and Charmaine seem to have reached that point when their area in the North American Rust Belt is hit by mass unemployment, they are forced to sleep in their car, and their only regular treat is a breakfast of coffee and stale doughnuts.

Life in the twin town of Consilience/Positron promises the perfect solution for them: a job, a home, a meaningful life. The only catch is, once you’re in, you can’t ever leave.

Nevertheless, Stan and Charmaine seem to have few doubts. Or at least they are quick to ignore what niggles they might have. A nice meal at the restaurant and a pair of soft bath towels at the Harmony Hotel seem to seal the deal.

Life seems good at the beginning. Stan and Charmaine spend alternate months living together in their house in Consilience and working in the town, and the others separated from each other at Positron Prison.

And it’s the prison months that really mess with their brains. But the couple seem prepared to go to great lengths to preserve their sheltered and comfortable life, their illusion of being safe. And as they do, they cross lines they might never have touched before and test their relationship to the limits.

You can’t help but see numerous tributes to the great twentieth-century utopias/dystopias as you’re reading Margaret Atwood’s latest offering, The Heart Goes Last (2015). Consilience has something of the consumerist utopia of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), where the fulfilment of material needs becomes the focus of a society starved of love and real feelings, while the prison universe is more akin to life in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), where orders are given by talking heads on screens and asking questions is not encouraged. (more…)

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