Book Reviews

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – a Mini Review by Unsatisfied-Me

Title: The Heart Goes Last
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor
Date of publication: 2016
Genre: Dystopia
Number of pages: 380

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.

My first Margaret Atwood. I bought The Heart Goes Last two years ago when I was working as a bookseller. I “needed” to read at least one of her books. At the time, I had no interest in The Handmaid’s Tale, and now that I am up to date with the show, I didn’t feel like comparing it with the book so… Here I am.

What strikes me as odd is that I don’t have much to say about the book. It is crystal clear that Margaret Atwood has a flair when it comes to creating a chilling future and reeling the reader in with scary images of what could be.

The world is suffering from a social and economic crisis that changed the shape of the country, and Charmaine and Stan, who previously had a lovely life, are now living in their car, doing their best to avoid thugs, and living on Charmaine’s little money from her job at the bar. With no hope to keep them carry on, they give in to the promise of a better future. If they sign up with to come and live in Consilience, they get a house, a job, safety, and nice neighbors. For a month. The next must be spent as inmates in the prison, separated but with jobs and tasks, good food, and a nice bed. What could possibly go wrong?

The idea behind the book is extremely clever. The descriptions kept me swiftly turn the pages to see how far Atwood had gone with this world. It was interesting to see Charmaine and Stan react to their new environment and adapt to a new life. However, once the novelty wore off, the story simply dragged. It dragged and dragged. Yes, the author explores the flaws in human beings, what drives us to do the things we do, what influences us. But the plot was too slow to keep me interested in what happened to Charmaine and Stan, which is sad as I really believe there is something magnificent in being transported to such a place and dive into what makes us who we are.

“You want your decisions taken away from you so you won’t be responsible for your own actions?”

The Heart Goes Last dives into a future gone wrong and its consequences on the women and men forced to live in it. The heart of the novel is the beautifully chilling world built by the author. For me, what is missing is the connection with the characters, which is disturbing as I could so perfectly picture this future, imagine myself considering this life, but then, there was a blank. I won’t remember Stan and Charmaine. I won’t remember the others. How is it possible to write about us without including a path of the reader to really feel something for the people inhabiting the story?

I am wondering if I missed something while reading this book. I recognize Margaret Atwood’s excellent skill to create a dystopian world, but am left asking myself what went wrong.

Have you read it? Share your thoughts!

Or grab your copy here and see for yourself!

25 thoughts on “The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – a Mini Review by Unsatisfied-Me”

  1. I agree completely with your review! Felt pretty much the same when I read it too – Atwood is a convincing world builder but I felt no connection to the characters as well.


    1. Thank you for stopping by, Clare! 😊 I find it so strange that she can conjure such amazing images of a world, but can’t build a bridge between the characters and the readers. I am glad I am not alone thinking there’s something missing!


  2. Aw… I’m sorry you thought it dragged. The whole thing with the meeting up with the guy who shares their house, and what she does in prison, and the sex dolls, just had me totally fascinated. Plus, that bit with the teddy bear and the sex dolls was HYSTERICAL! I couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, it is a type of dystopian world with lots of horrors, but she keeps it light as well. I loved it. Here’s my review.


  3. It’s unfortunate that the author put all her effort into the plot idea and the world building (love the idea btw) but forgot the character development somehow. Is this an earlier novel then The Handmaid’s Tale? Then she definitely learned from it. Maybe you should read The Testament? Thanks for your brilliant review, a pity this one missed its mark!


  4. I haven’t read this or The Handmaid’s Tale but the little Atwood I have read has left me rather underwhelmed. As you say, her writing is excellent and she has plenty of imagination, but somehow I find her characters leave me feeling uninvolved – I find a kind of almost sneering quality in the way she writes about them sometimes…


  5. I feel like Margaret Atwood is an author I should experience more of, but I haven’t really enjoyed those of her books I’ve read. I think the one I was most engaged with was Alias Grace.


  6. The Handmaid’s Tale left me somewhat underwhelmed, so I don’t have much appetite for more Atwood. The idea of spending alternating months in prison has me intrigued though.


  7. A great and honest review! I haven’t read this book but I have read other Margaret Atwood books where I experienced exactly what you are describing: a very talented author with bright ideas but just something missing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I read this book in March this year, when the pandemic started to get real in Europe. Reading about a societal collapse exactly when the world around seemed to collapse was a very interesting experience – it all seemed much more realistic 🙂


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