Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to keep afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine’s job at a dive bar, they’re increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a desperate state.
So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of 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 this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.
At first, all is well. But slowly, unknown to the other, Stan and Charmaine develop a passionate obsession with their ‘Alternates’, the couple that occupy their home when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire take over, and Positron looks less like an answer to prayer and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.
I received an ARC of The Heart Goes Last from Bloomsbury Australia. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I don’t really know how I feel about this book. There were things that I really enjoyed but also some things that turned me off. I liked the concept of the book, and that was what made me want to read it in the first place, but I feel like the whole book was just about how people are obsessed with sex.
The Heart Goes Last takes place in the near-future after the economy has kind of collapsed. Our main characters, Charmaine and Stan, are living in their car and surviving on the very little money Charmaine makes. When they find out about the Positron Project, which seems very much like a utopia, they sign up immediately. This was the first thing that bothered me. They pretty much sign up for this utopian scheme without thinking about it and considering the pros and cons, even though this project is FOR LIFE. Once you enter Consilience, you’re not allowed to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Even though they’ve been warned by people not to enter the project, Charmaine and Stan sign up without any hesitation. That just didn’t seem very believable to me. They don’t even really believe in the ideals of the scheme after they’ve signed up FOR LIFE, though they want to I guess.
Stan has never heard so much bullshit in his life. On the other hand, he sort of wants to believe it.
I wasn’t really into the book until about 100 pages in. The first 70 or so pages felt a little bit boring and slow. I couldn’t really picture the real world they were in that was apparently so anarchic that they had to stay in their car almost 24/7 in case it was stolen. I could picture Consilience and the Positron a little bit better but I just didn’t feel like it was completely believable. I think the story really picked up when we got to about page 120, where there’s a twist. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting it at all and I started to enjoy the book more after that point. The book picks up in pace and we start to see a bit more humour, which I actually found to be quite humorous. I loved the whole scheme to take down Positron from within and how Stan and Charmaine get involved in this plan separately and unknowingly.
My problem with this book were the characters. They were all very dislikable and flawed. It seemed like they were all sex-crazed and it was the only thing they could think about. The book is filled with people obsessing about sex, having sex, watching others have sex. I just wanted a lot less of it. It was like sex as the only thing on their minds. And of course, this being a Margaret Atwood book, feminism is a big theme in the book. Men are portrayed as predators and women their victims. The men wanted to have sex with every woman they came across. A sex-bot business was formed so that men could have a sex doll customised to look and sound like the women they wanted. And men were having sex with chickens when they were separated from the women in the prison. I almost couldn’t deal with the book by this point, but luckily the plot twist came soon after…
I really did not like Charmaine in this book. She was very self-important and put down people who she thought were not as pretty or skilled as her. For most of the book she thinks only about herself and her own goals. When she first becomes obsessed with the ‘Alternates’, she comes up with a plan (in her imagination only) to brutally kill Stan so that she can be with Max, the Alternate. I don’t want to spoil, but there are other instances where she formulates selfish plans in her head to get her out of bad situations. I just thought she was despicable. I liked Stan a little bit more because he seemed to be more level-headed, though he was also obsessed with sex (and at times seemed very pushy with Charmaine about sex). In general, I just thought most of the characters were nasty.
Overall, I did end up enjoying the plot but there were some things that I didn’t find to be very believable. I didn’t connect with or like any of the characters and I wish they had some redeeming qualities. I found some parts of the book to be funny and I enjoyed those parts a lot. I just wish there had been less emphasis on sex because the main message of the story, about freedom and free-will, was lost.