Summary and book reviews of The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last

A Novel

by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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About this Book

Book Summary

Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around - and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in... for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.

At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

CRAMPED

Sleeping in the car is cramped. Being a third-hand Honda, it's no palace to begin with. If it was a van they'd have more room, but fat chance of affording one of those, even back when they thought they had money. Stan says they're lucky to have any kind of a car at all, which is true, but their luckiness doesn't make the car any bigger.

Charmaine feels that Stan ought to sleep in the back because he needs more space – it would only be fair, he's larger – but he has to be in the front in order to drive them away fast in an emergency. He doesn't trust Charmaine's ability to function under those circumstances: he says she'd be too busy screaming to drive. So Charmaine can have the more spacious back, though even so she has to curl up like a snail because she can't exactly stretch out.

They keep the windows mostly closed because of the mosquitoes and the gangs and the solitary vandals. The solitaries don't usually ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
Stan and Charmaine, a young urban couple, have been hit by job loss and bankruptcy in the midst of a nationwide economic collapse. Forced to live in their third-hand Honda, where they are vulnerable to roving gangs, they think the gated community of Consilience may be the answer to their prayers. If they sign a life contract, they'll get a job and a lovely house . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents must leave their homes and serve as inmates in the Positron prison system. At first, this seems worth it: they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table. But when a series of troubling events unfolds, Positron begins to look less like a prayer answered and more like...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although the plot elements in The Heart Goes Last sound mostly damning, Atwood adds no small amount of good things about the Consilience project: it subscribes to a green living model with self-sustaining industries and economic stability. And while most dystopian novels are as dark as the communities they describe, thankfully, Atwood avoids this trap by using humor. The technique allows her to be even more biting in her attitudes regarding greed, while simultaneously keeping her protagonists from being dull. This also emphasizes their humanity, which is vitally essential to the overall plot. The Heart Goes Last is a masterful piece of prose that's a page-turner to the very end, and a novel that I highly recommend.   (Reviewed by Davida Chazan).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The novel is full of sly moments of peripeteia and lots of sex, which play alongside larger ideas about the hidden monsters lurking in facile totalitarianism, and, as implied by the title, the ability of the heart to keep fighting despite long odds.

Booklist

Starred Review. The novel is full of sly moments of peripeteia and lots of sex, which play alongside larger ideas about the hidden monsters lurking in facile totalitarianism, and, as implied by the title, the ability of the heart to keep fighting despite long odds.

Kirkus Reviews

Atwood is noted for satiric humor, but with the misanthropy of this book equaled by its misogyny, with women repeatedly melting 'like toffee' and treating each other like 'something that got stuck on their shoe' and 'puppy throw-up,' it's just not funny. The end of the novel, set in an 'Elvisorium' full of gay Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas, will leave the few who have gotten that far completely bewildered. As one of a small group of authors who won literary credibility for dystopian fiction, Atwood has taught her readers to expect better.

The Sunday Times (UK)

The outstanding novelist of our age.

The Independent (UK)

Anyone keen to consign literary fiction to an early grave will have to deal with her first.

The Guardian (UK)

There are poignant moments, but if the level of emotional engagement feels more superficial here, Atwood compensates with pace and comic timing; you only pause in your laughter when you realise that, in its constituent parts, the world she depicts here is all too horribly plausible.

The Independent (UK)

How knowing she is; how quick. How easily she mocks herself, and us. She is our medicine.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Atwood makes it look so easy, doing what she does best: tenderly dissecting the human heart ... A marvellous writer.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Kibbutz

Atwood's experimental Positron/Consilience project in The Heart Goes Last shares many similarities with the kibbutz movement in Israel, which began in the early 20th century as a way for Jews to develop and settle the land.

The basic philosophy behind the kibbutz embodied Karl Marx's maxim: "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The early kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) were mostly agricultural settlements with a communal lifestyle (I lived on one for a while too). Everyone had a job with members performing the less desirable ones on a rotating basis. People ate all their meals together and everyone got a very simple furnished place to live in, and clothes to wear. Children lived in communal homes and were ...

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