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.
This is an interesting story, yes, but it could have been written by anyone. From the moment I started it to the last page, I didn’t really hear much of Atwood’s usual voice in the narrative. None of the poetic, lush language she is so well known for is there.
The characters are well developed, though none of them are likeable enough to root for. I love the bleakness of Atwood’s vision of the future, and the violent tendencies in humans that she bring to light, but I wish she had written all of this with her voice! At points, her word choices even felt as if they had been dumbed down to attract a wider audience.
There are plenty of absurd scenes, with Elvis impersonators galore, which make me think she might have meant the novel to be a dark comedy, but the comedy aspect falls flat. As a reader who will buy anything Atwood writes, I truly hope she has gotten this style of writing out of her chest and gets back to the beautiful writing and poignant storylines she is known for.