Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Heart Goes Last has some intriguing ideas but I’m not sure they all necessarily add up to a satisfying reading experience. Like many of her books, the setting is a near future dystopian one with our protagonists Stan and Charmaine living in their car and surviving on the meager earnings Charmaine earns as a waitress. When they’re giving the opportunity to trade in this life for something akin to a romanticized 50’s sitcom version of life, the two agree.
But there’s a price to be paid and a dark side to the agreement. Every other month, the couple spends time separated and locked up in prison. The other month is spent in freedom and doing various jobs within the community based on their skills. The couple is supposed to have little or no contact with the other couple that lives in their house while they’re in prison, but a seemingly change meeting between Charmaine and the other man who lives in their house begins an affair that will begin to change the dynamic of things.
The Heart Goes Last has an intriguing hook and set-up, but the farther I got into the novel, the less I found myself enjoying it. Part of it is that the deeper we get into the novel, the less likeable these characters become. And while there are some interesting twists to the situation that Stan and Charmaine find themselves living in (one early twist finds Stan falling in love with a woman who left a note behind, simply by imagining her, only to late find out that note was written by his wife for her lover), I felt like the novel lost a lot of its early momentum by the mid-point. It does pick up a bit at the end, but that’s not before I felt like I had to wade through a hundred pages that make me care less and less about the characters and what was going on.
Despite all that, Atwood still has a wonderful grasp of language and composes some utterly beautiful and haunting sentences and passages. But that isn’t enough to make this novel live up to its early promise.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.