Review: Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m utterly enamored of Margaret Atwood‘s writing and ideas.

That said…in a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the top, this books gets a +23 but also a -3.

The structure, pacing, crescendo of the narrative is close to perfect (imo): every little detail plays Hide and Seek in the pages and slowly but surely and effectively comes together to paint a full, vibrant picture.
The Narrator‘s voice doesn’t stray and it’s faithful to itself and the narrative premises – I don’t particularly like him, but I happily follow his voice as I learn more of this story.
The commentary about society and technology and science is scarily accurate and intriguing while presenting not-so-far-away-in-the-future scenarios.


The love story/female character element is very much a fantasy (not literally speaking, no spoilers here) and even if I see and understand the reasons why, the filter through which we see her, the character’s function in the plot as a pivot of meaning and commentary on specific issues…it leaves me quite indifferent.

And yes, I know the next reread will show me more (good books always do :) but it will be on an intellectual more than visceral level.
A writer’s choices might not always be a reader’s choices, obviously :)

Recommended? Absolutely.

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Invisible illnesses: what is their narrative?

healthy-life-freeway-exit-sign-highway-street-18212486I was having a conversation with a dear friend (Valentine Oggan) and we asked the question:

Invisible Illnesses, why do people have problems with them?

There are ongoing debates about the stigma of mental illnesses, from Depression to Chronic Fatigue to Dementia and all in between, and how these illnesses and those suffering from them shouldn’t be ostracized or mocked or punished for them, and how can society integrate the sufferers with the non-sufferers and build a more accepting and tolerant, encompassing environment for everyone.

The biggest obstacle is people (non-sufferers)’s lack of understanding of these illnesses. They can’t see it, how can it be true? Is it not all in someone’s head? How can sufferers suffer and still go on vacations and such? Don’t they suffer all the time? If they don’t, then is their illness real?

If you think of illness as a narrative, then these questions become stunningly relevant and significant.

In a narrative, you have a beginning, a climax, a conclusion. Something happens, develops, ends.

In a visible illness, you have the first symptoms, the diagnosis, the cure.

For example, one has an accident and breaks a leg, the doctor/hospital confirms the broken bones with an x-ray, a cast is made and after 40 days, if there are no complications, the leg needs some physiotherapy and it’s good to go. Or, you start sneezing, you may have the flu or an allergy, you get tested, diagnosed, given a cure, and then you recover or control the symptoms.

In visible illnesses there is a clear narrative: a beginning (symptoms), climax (discovery of cause and diagnosis), happy ending ( a cure). Most successful narrative have happy endings, obviously not all, and that’s also where invisible illnesses come into play.

Invisible illness: what is their narrative?

The narrative of invisible illnesses is not a happy ending one. In fact, in most cases, it’s a non-ending one. Or one where the ending is not clear and easily communicated. Non sufferers can’t follow the story along because the story doesn’t end in the ways that are commonly accepted: it’s not a happy ending, or an ending.

The lack of visible/tangible narrative solutions to invisible illnesses makes people uncomfortable and deprives them of indicators of behaviour (complimenting one on surviving the illness/accident, sharing their own narrative and happy ending, etc).

Non sufferers hear a story/watch a film and there is no ending filmed: each narrative provides in itself the means to understanding it, but when those set pieces are invisible (no cast, fever, hospital discharge papers to show), non sufferers don’t see/accept that particular story.

This is in no way a finite thought, just an intuition I’d love to discuss more, and I know there are many out there discussing the narrative of doctors/patients relationships, and supporting a better understanding of invisible illnesses, and I wonder whether these ideas may help in any way :)

Do let me know what you think, in comments or by email :)



Filed under Article, Blogging, invisible illness, narrative, Non Fiction

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Iris Murdoch’s quote

Something to think about as we work on our writing :-)

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How to challenge your writing: experiment with constraints!

I recently participated in a 48 hours film challenge organized by NUS. We were given a prompt/topic and off we went, I wrote the script, the team commented on it, we sorted out kinks and logistics, I sat with the cameraman and we collaborated on the storyboard (my love of drawing is always there, a touch rusty, but there all the same) and then on with filming, editing, and pizza :)

This is the result:   Mar ri (together with)

We didn’t win the competition, but a representative of NHS Scotland asked us to use our film in some of their events, and possibly come and talk about it. Which is a pretty good result, and we were all chuffed.

The challenges in writing this script were:

-limited time: the film had to be finished and submitted in 48 hours, and filming notoriously takes a lot of time. I had a bus traveling time of 30 minutes to think about the prompt and come up with some ideas, we discussed them in the group for an hour or so, and then I wrote the script, another hour and a half or so. Revise, work out the kinks, check with the group and with our limited possibilities. Clock’s ticking, there’s no time to be precious about your special words, waiting for divine inspiration or your specially secluded writing spot – you have to chose your message and communicate it efficiently AND artistically in the time available.

-limited range of subject: we had a prompt, a theme to explore. Which can help in directing the focus of your ideas, but can also be an obstacle if it’s not a theme you’ve considered/come across before, or not under the same terms. Obstacles are made to be surpassed!

-limited means/budget: we had no budget apart from ourselves, therefore, once again, there were limits and boundaries to what we could do, and the script had to reflect and adapt to that. No point in writing in huge explosions, stunts or any other trickery we couldn’t deliver. The imagination had to be limited to what the story could support in term of practical means (locations, cast involved, etc.)

I found it an inspiring exercise, and I invite you to challenge your writing similarly: give yourself some limits (time available/word count/theme/number of characters-locations, etc) and play around with it, see what obstacles appear in your mind, what makes you sweat ink. I firmly believe it’s the best way to learn something new about your writing, and as always, feel free to share your experience in the comments:)

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Seeking writing inspiration? Look at this Pinterest board for writers

I really like Pinterest and I’m planning on doing more with it writing-wise, like collecting visual inspiration for my novels/short stories (ah, the time to do everything we want to, need to, have to…where does it go? :)

However it’s not as if I don’t collect visual inspiration anyway, it’s more a matter of sharing it on my Pinterest boards.

For the moment, if you’re looking for Writing Inspiration (from the Write Life) quotes and such, with pretty colours (it may sound like an invitation to procrastinate, but it isn’t!) look here and enjoy:

Writing Inspiration Quotes

Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your Pinterest address, I’d love to follow your boards :)

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A cover I drew presented at the Narrative and Science event ‘Brave New Words’ (Edinburgh)

More precisely, a cover I drew for the Creative Non Fiction competition “Tales from Within” (CNF on Stem Cells)

Book Cover by Silvia Barlaam - for Imaginative Fiction on Stem Cells

Book Cover by Silvia Barlaam – “Tales from Within” CNF on Stem Cells

The event will be on Wednesday 23rd October 2013, 7.00 for 7.30pm.
Inspace, 1 Crichton Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AB

“Brave New Words: a celebration of words and science

For millennia, the sciences have fired the imagination. We react to the world around us with awe and curiosity. In order to understand and experience it, we tell ourselves stories. Some of these stories we describe as fiction and some as non-fiction. But all stories, just like all science, can teach.

These stories, once spread as myths and folklore, now come in the form of prose, comics, blogs and poems. But questions arise about how best to communicate science. How accurate must writers of fiction be? Can non-fiction authors be inventive or poetic? What forms are most effective at imparting knowledge and which are best at gripping the imagination?”

For more info, refer to the adorable Barbara Melville of Illicit Ink (and other things!) at

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