I read The Heart Goes Last in a day. It had been a long time since I had read a book that kept me engaged enough to devote a lot of time to it but this was a fascinating read. The Heart Goes Last was quick, it was suspicious, it was embarrassingly human. It was addictive!
The Heart Goes Last is set in a somewhat dystopian time. There has been a major financial crash so a lot of people are without homes, which are worth nothing and out of reach, they live in their cars, they scrounge, they can’t find work, it’s a dire situation. The protagonists are a couple that have been hit hard. Only one has a job now, they live in fear of being broken into and hurt.
Whilst at work, the female protagonist, Charmaine, sees an advert about a social solution. You apply to a program, you get given a house, clothes, some sort of monetary system and live in rotation. One month in your house with a normal job and then one month in prison. You are given counterparts to save on resources, for example, when one couple or person is in prison, their counterpart is living their month in the house and vice versa. It’s a system that keeps everybody happy, everybody doing time and everybody safe.
Or are they?
During the system, Stan and Charmaine become obsessed with their counterparts in ways which I won’t go into because it would spoil the whole book. Both Stan and Charmaine’s jobs in the program are interesting and they get insights into what is actually going on inside the program. It’s dark, it’s dirty and it’s entirely scarily possible.
I enjoyed The Heart Goes Last mainly because of the concept and the pace and the twists and turns. I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories and will always try to guess them before I’m explicitly told them. That being said, there were some elements that made the book difficult to read. Margaret Atwood is kind of famous for her characters revealing her belief that men are forceful and women are victims. That, in itself, is something that does resonate with me and I do understand it, of course. I’m sure we have all had our experiences and, from experiencing many aggressive and controlling males in my life, I sympathise to an extent. But it just makes for an uncomfortable read. I struggle to believe that Stan is only motivated by his weird forceful sexual fantasies. I mean, he literally showed sympathy and disgust later on in the novel at similar themes. I felt like everyone in this book was a predator and I just found every single male voice uncomfortable. That being said, if that was the effect Atwood wanted, then it worked!
I would recommend The Heart Goes Last to anyone who loves a gritty thriller. It’s genuinely an interesting concept and I would have loved to see what another author would have made of it. But this is a good novel for anyone who likes themes such as relationships, conspiracies, thrills, secrets and radical feminism.
I wouldn’t recommend The Heart Goes Last to anyone with a short tolerance for male predator / female victim themes. I’m issuing a possible trigger warning.
If you’d like to give The Heart Goes Last a try, get a discount from my book club link here!