Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: The Heart Goes Last

Charmaine and Stan are running low on options. They have been living in their car and surviving off the tips Charmaine makes as as bartender. When they hear about the town of Consilience, it seems like it could be a literal life saver. The community has a lot of strict rules though. The couple will live in relative luxury for a month at a time. But then, every other month, they switch and they will become voluntary inmates in the local prison. Another couple will live in their home, go to work, and live their normal lives. Despite Stan's brother warning them not to go, they decide it is the best choice. For a few months, everything is fine. But then Charmaine and Stan both start wondering about the alternates who live in their house when they are gone. Their hypothetical and actual affairs will have irrevocable consequences for the couple, their alternates, and the whole community.

Margaret Atwood is Margaret Atwood, right? A new story from her brain is always reason to rejoice and she can write a bizarre and scary future like few other writers. That being said, this wasn't my favorite of her books and I think a big part of that had to do with our main characters. There are times when authors choose to make characters types in order to make a point. Every time I thought Atwood had written caricatures, something happened to make me think they were actually supposed to be well-developed characters who happened to fall short of that. As we read this story, we are supposed to be rooting for Charmaine and Stan to end up together, in spite of everything that happens to them and everything they do to each other. But I think many readers will actually be hoping that they just go their separate ways - they are so cruel and thoughtless to each other.

The setup of the town itself is fascinating and I loved finding out the little details. The town is divided in half and each side takes a month in either the town or the prison. Each person has a job in each location and a locker in their home to store their clothing and personal items when their alternates live there. I loved the little details, like the music and television choices that were available to the residents and the day-to-day minutiae of their lives.

Because this is a book by Atwood, there are big themes to ponder here about love, sex, power, and commerce. But The Heart Goes Last intertwines those ideas with a sort of campy bad romance about a couple who has no idea what their spouse wants. Neither seems to care too much to find out, which makes it difficult for readers to care either.

The Heart Goes Last
By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese September 2015
320 pages
Read via Netgalley


  1. This was for me an odd read by Atwood. Not like her usual stuff.

  2. I'm still kicking myself for not reading this when I had the e-galley. Sigh. I seem to have to be in the right mood for Atwood, but the premise on this one is so good even though the reviews have been iffy. One day!

  3. Interesting review. I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read an Atwood novel - just a nonfiction book and a short story or two - but I keep meaning to. I have Handmaid's Tale on my bookshelf and need to move it up the list!

    Thanks for the review -


    Book By Book

  4. I've heard such mixed things about this book, I think I need to read it for myself!