books,  product review

Book review: ‘The Heart Goes Last’ by Margaret Atwood

'The Heart Goes Last' by Margaret Atwood: great message, but horrible packaging.(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!)

This was one of those books that contained a lot of thought-provoking scenarios packaged in an utterly un-entertaining story. If I was looking at this book purely in light of possible book club discussions then I would have rated it much higher, but as something to read for fun, I hated it, and I only finished it because of a read-along.

Set in the near future, the plot follows a young couple, Stan and Charmaine, who have very nearly hit bottom. Living in their car, living hand to mouth in a world torn apart by greed and violence, they’re desperate for respite, so when they see an advertisement for a community called Consilience, they eagerly sign up. The housing project has a unique approach: live one month as a member of society, spend the next in the community prison; members alternate months and share a house with another couple, swapping back and forth and in exchange for their labor, receiving housing, meals, security—the whole nine yards. Of course, not everything is hunky-dory, and once Stan and Charmaine both develop obsessions with the “alternates” who share their home, their lives begin to fall apart. Consilience once seemed like a haven, but now even their “free” months are a prison.

Let’s first take a look at why this book didn’t work for me, after the jump!

Keep in mind that everyone is different and some of you might not mind these things quite as much, but they made it nearly unreadable for me:

–I didn’t like the characters. Not a single one of them! Charmaine was a useless twit and Stan was a jerk.

–The plot of the book turns into a rabbit hole of absurdity that makes it hard to internalize the messages hidden therein. I didn’t find it entertaining, just irritating. This book was marketed as dystopia (at least when I got my ARC) but it feels more like a satire.

–For a 320-page book, it seemed to drag. I think this was probably a combo of writing style and the fact that I just couldn’t connect to the plot.

Now, as I said, if I had been reading this solo I would have marked it DNF and moved on, but I stuck with it for a read-along, and thus I can say that it definitely contains some thought-provoking material for a group discussion! There are a lot of themes of sex, nostalgia, and healthy relationships. Some questions you can ask a group after reading the book:

–How does Charmaine/Jasmine and the sexbots with the “virgin” setting mirror society’s Madonna/whore complex?

–Is the 1950s setting of Positron/Consilience and the seedy underbelly of the community a rebuttal to those who argue that “the good old days” were better and less sleazy?

–Does the concept of “imprinting” parody other fictional “romances” (Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey) where a woman is “in love” with an controlling man but doesn’t have a very good grasp on what a real, loving relationship looks like?

–What does the book say about sexual desire and love and how society (and many romance authors) seem to have confused the two? (That is, you can absolutely have one without the other, and having the hots for someone doesn’t mean your relationship will last if there’s no firm foundation underneath.)

I thought this book had some great points to make but I really wish it had been more fun to read. By the last page I was so glad to be done with it! I’m really torn on how to rate it because in the end I think I would give it a high rating for the message and a low rating for the material, thus, a two-star rating overall.

The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood (hardcover, 320 pages). published September 2015 by Nan A. Talese. Genre: sci-fi, dystopia. Two out of five stars.


  • mary

    Idk, sounds like one of those frustrating nightmares I have where I just can’t seem to get out of my situation, and yet it keeps changing on me unexpectedly to more frustrating circumstances!!!!! lol

  • Katrin

    The story sounds really interesting! But I am so sorry it was disappointing for you. I hate when that happens! I just finished an essay for uni so I hope I can find some time to read other books as well!

  • Kelly

    Thanks for the review, it will save me from reading this book! I love Margaret Atwood so it’s surprising to hear that this book was so disappointing. But I do need to somewhat like at least one character to make the book worth reading. :) Sounds like she’s exploring some topics here that have been better explored in her other books.

    • Martha

      I agree–if I don’t like at least one character, it kind of kills the whole book for me. I think I was glad I read this one just because it made me think…but if I was totally new to Atwood, it sure wouldn’t make me want to run out and read another of her books!

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