Review: The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood, 2015)

May contain mild spoilers but I’m not going to tell you the ending.

I was excited to find this book, quite by chance, in the charity shop at the end of my road. I have a lot of time for Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fictions. Her MadAddam Trilogy is one of my favourite books ever. So I dived right into The Heart Goes Last like a child diving into a pool on a hot summer day, without a care in the world.

I was not disappointed, much. The story on paper seems implausible. We would never volunteer to live in a locked community, to spend half our lives in comfortable prisons, to be subject to constant surveillance. Right? Right???

Stan and Charmaine, the married couple and main characters, choose security over freedom. In a nightmare America where recession and offshore finance have  reduced most of the cities to the status of post-bankruptcy Detroit, they’re sick of living in their car, fearing for their lives. So the Consilience project seems like a great place to live. But of course, in this nightmare of capitalism gone even wronger than it is now, the creepy 50’s faux-utopia hides ravenous fangs and managerially mandated nightmares. Under the pressure of this bizarre facade, Stan and Charmaine start to crack. Sexual obsession and death tangle them up in convoluted plots and their lives devolve into surreal nightmares of sexbots, brain surgery, Elvis impersonators and undercover agents.

There were moments of this book that made me gasp. Atwood really delves into how humans can do awful things under pressure. Think of the Milgram experiment, or Zimbardo’s prison. Charmaine, a character who would be trite or even irritating without the precisely measured hints to her traumatic past, is an ideal subject for this nexus of control. A sweet woman who genuinely cares about home furnishings, we see how she deludes herself into warping her sense of morality and even reality, in order to carry on living in material comfort and not rock the boat. Being nice, appearing sweet, are weapons of survival that she has learned to wield with great skill. But then again, she might just be being sensible, because people who rock the boat in Consilience tend to disappear. 

This book is written from alternating perspectives of Stan and Charmaine, so we see how each of them see each other, how they see themselves, and the contrast. Deliberately written as an ‘everyman’ type of couple, sometimes the simple language of their thoughts can feel like the writer is patronising her own characters. The common man drinks too much beer, likes trimming the hedge, and is pretty damn homophobic. He lusts after women and wishes his wife would give him more sex. The common woman is sexually withholding, finds importance in nail varnish and throw pillows, is somewhat sentimental but tries her best to pamper her husband and keep his spirits up. They are both passive victims of events, rarely making a decision themselves but caught in the webs of machinations of people who do have power. This is a pawn’s eye view of some complicated chess, and at times it left me feeling queasy. Society is conditioning people into this kind of toxic sleepwalking, and come collapse, what will we do? It’s enough to turn you into a prepper, because civilisations do have a nasty habit of collapsing.

In some ways, this is a twisted love story of betrayal, redemption, kidnap and neurological interventions. In other ways, it is a slapstick romp through a dystopia whose echoes we can already feel pooling in the present. Mega-corporations, government collusion, outsourcing of jobs and off-shoring of capital, are the bad guys in fiction as in real life. Atwood just draws the results of their predation to creative conclusions which are nonetheless still obviously moulded from the clay of our present world.

This is a book full of ideas, some of which could be books in themselves. It started life as a serial, which might explain the slightly uneven pacing. There is fun to be had here, and some thrilling thought experiments, but by the end I was left wondering why. Of course as a writer it’s great fun to treat your characters like a cruel child torturing ants, but there should be some kind of payoff. And in this case, the ending made me angry, and actually detracted from the excellence that was shown elsewhere in the book. It was an unexpected crash-landing into neurotically mawkish cliche and I do not need that in my life.

The Verdict: 3.5/5 

A dystopian romp with some great ideas, delicious in parts but slightly undercooked.



Review: The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood, 2015)

I used to hate performing but now it is the only thing I do that makes me feel alive. Without poetry and shit-talking I am a mere shell, a wasteland of a human being. Derby Poetry Festival was an intense inspirational beautiful event and performing 3 times during was more concentrated performance than I’ve ever done before in my idle life. And performing at Sophie Sparham’s book launch was such an amazing honour. Hitting up the capital and opening a night of absolutely excellent performers, to celebrate a brilliant poetry collection that you should buy right now.

Basically I’ve been doing this for like, a year or two? Thanks to City-Zen One Mic basically, I got a sweet intro to spoken word and standing on small stages saying things to real people. Everything come from there. Then we got some hosting skills going on as well and I found out that I quite like chatting bollocks and I’m not 100% terrified of everything really.

This could be viewed as an inspirational story of a shy frightened girl overcoming her fears and self-consciousness to stand on stage and express True Feelings in the cause of Art.

Or it could be a tragic tale of rampant narcissism and ludicrous hats. Hubris nemesis, etc.

Anyway I need to step my game up and become the rampaging poetic beast the world deserves.


I’m feeling down and seasonally affective disordered today. Self-reflective blog rambling is a coping mechanism. Some bullshit inspirational Facebook thing was asking me to focus on my strength and that was the only thing I could think of and even that was somewhat conflicted. Reality is incredibly contingent so knowing what is objectively strong or weak, positive or harmful within the self is a bit of a crapshoot, in my opinion. The worst traits can be used and transformed. The best traits can twist into the noose that ends you. Black and white thinking is meant to be a problem for borderline people, but I think extreme ambivalence is more of an issue right now.


Life is ok though, I finally fulfilled my teenage dream of seeing Marilyn Manson. Dripping sweat and moshpit bruises,  sleazy decadence love and adventures. Only ten years late but better late than never. This is an extreme case of arrested development or perhaps perpetual adolescence. If I’m going to find myself I have to look everywhere.

(I recognise that the self is illusory.)

Progress Report: 28 years

 I had plenty of goals last birthday, which was so long ago that I can’t at all remember who I was back then. Not anywhere near as cool as I am now, definitely. My goals were not ambitious, and I still failed to achieve most of them.
The good thing is that many of them became irrelevant, and I was too busy doing much better things with my time. I’m going to list these things because I’m grateful to the universe for letting me happen them. When I list them it feels like being a child on birthday morning sitting with a great stack of shiny presents.
Things I didn’t expect would have happened a year ago, which happened nonetheless.
  • I have a home, a lovely home with a lovely housemate. I love living in Derby, there are so many amazing people here. I’m kind of living independently.
  • I’m Pippa Porcupine’s Damn Fine Natural Skincare Co.
  • There is a great deal of poetry. I love performing. Still get scared but it’s good kicks.
  • There is a great deal of love. ❤ to you all.
  • Summer was amazing and I’m spinning with the seasons. From Beltane til Solstice, to Lammas and beyond…
  • The pain is the pain of cracking eggshells, reaching roots, unfurling leaves. Growth.
  • Piracy is a viable option.
  • A hat and a cackle are all you need.


What did I want a year ago? Modest things to be going on with. I’m a work in progress.

Get Fit

  • I’m still a traffic hazard, but don’t let that stop me from biking everywhere.
  • I go to yoga most weeks, it’s only up the road. I’ve even started doing some stretches on waking, sun saluting into the waking world. More yoga needed though, I’m getting old and creaky.
  • I still still eat a lot of cheese. Cheese is important to me and I have no wish to forsake it. I wish to maintain and encourage my love of wholesome veg based meals. Nosh them probiotics as well.
  • Apparently I’d stopped smoking a year ago. Or at least I was vaping constantly, not sure if that’s an improvement. I smoke a bit now and have no goals to change that.
  • GOAL WAS RIDICULOUS, NEVER GONNA HAPPEN MATE: Drink once or twice a week, at most. HAAAAA I can’t believe I made this goal, what an idiot. I am slowly getting sensible though, if only because hangovers are worse now.

New goals:

  • Dance more.
  • Climb up things.
  • Learn to fight.


  • My poetry pamphlet, Thou Shalt Not Suffer, was published and I’ve nearly sold out again. Only 4 left, if you don’t have one yet you should get on it.
  • I’ve written and performed a whole bunch of new poems. Some of them are pretty good. People seem to like them.
  • Write more stuff. This year I want to do 2 new books at least.
  • Get back to blogging
  • Still a goal: Daily freewriting
  • More journalling. Otherwise I forget where I’ve been and that makes map-making confusing and narrative next to impossible.

New goals:

  • Sell yourself. Make a performance video. Get booked to perform at festivals and other places that are not here.


  • City-Zen is in the pipeline.
  • Get back on the volunteering.

Mental Health

  • I GRADUATED FROM THERAPY! Got a certificate and everything. DBT helped me so much, gave me skills I use every day and a solid background in Mindfulness that is a foundation for life. I met some amazing friends there and am so thankful that I got this treatment. Protect NHS mental health services please.

New Goals:

  • Carry on growing and learning new skills to live by
  • Regular meditation practice will help
  • Earth

Other Stuff

  • Everything constantly needs tidying. This does not qualify as a life goal.
  • I still want to do some art.
  • I don’t want to learn how to knit, why did I think that was a sensible goal?
  • Why did I set a goal to learn to drive when I will never be able to afford a car?
  • I never learnt violin (my violin is busted) but I did pick up a bit of tin whistle! I enjoy it a lot. Can almost play 3 whole tunes!
  • Didn’t get round to this other other goal: Get better at poi.
  • Adventures will always be a goal


Looking back over previous birthdays, there has been a theme that I felt life was passing me by while I failed to achieve anything of note whatsoever. This is absolutely not the case this year. While I still sometimes weep into the darkness when confronted by the absolute insignificance of my life, I can also recognise that the past year was a significant one in so many ways. Now it’s time to start giving back and making best use of this life I’ve been regifted.

There are so many people whose love and kindness and all round excellence has got me here and if I just pay that love forward the world will be brightened. It’s the least I could do.

Thank you all.

Never thought I’d get this far but it’s fucking nice here.


Progress Report: 28 years

On the writing process. (2008)

Sit on the hard wooden chair, stare at the cluttered desk and the blank page. Pick up a pencil. Hold it, hovering, above the paper, considering the right word. The perfect word to begin the story. Realise that the pencil is not perfectly sharp. It is adequate, but not optimum. Root through stacks of paper and drawers full of junk for a sharpener. Find it hidden in a jar of odds and ends. Get up, go to the bin, sharpen the pencil to a deadly point.

Return slowly to the chair. Sit down. The paper is still blank. Create something brilliant. You are not good enough. Nothing you write will ever be perfect. Your words are clichés; nothing original or insightful could come from a mind as weak as yours.

Snap the pencil in half and throw the splintered parts across the room. They bounce off the walls leaving graphite grey impact marks. Stand slowly again and stumble to the bed. Lay down your ungainly body, curl up and stare at nothing and think of nothing. Blank and empty. You are nothing.


This is part one of a possibly endless endeavour to spam you all with my old writing efforts. I found my old hard drive, you see, and it’s endlessly fascinating in a narcissistic kind of way.

On the writing process. (2008)

Hell is neither fire nor brimstone

However much I invest in learning alchemy

or elemental magic,

It isn’t there

Sulphur has its own fire in the soul

Elements make this world

No devils


Hell ain’t other people neither

Though they be a bunch o fuckers


Your who is not a where

you aint aware

of this

and you aint a fire

you int

you int no thing

tho you aint nothing

more the pity



is here

Hell is the heart come barking

cluckin for dope years after the habit

howlin at the moon


hell is you

hell is being yourself

hell is where you are


hell is your useless bastard self

set alone

in the dark