The Heart Goes Last: A Novel

The Heart Goes Last: A Novel

by Margaret Atwood


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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale

Stan and Charmaine, a young urban couple, have been hit by job loss and bankruptcy in the midst of nationwide economic collapse. Forced to live in their third-hand Honda, where they are vulnerable to roving gangs, they think the gated community of Consilience may be the answer to their prayers. If they sign a life contract, they’ll get a job and a lovely house . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents must leave their homes and serve as inmates in the Positron prison system. At first, this seems worth it: they will have a roof over their heads and food on the table. But when a series of troubling events unfolds, Positron begins to look less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled. The Heart Goes Last is a vivid, urgent vision of development and decay, freedom and surveillance, struggle and hope—and the timeless workings of the human heart.

One of the Best Books of the Year: The Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101912362
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 92,969
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the 1989 Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; The Year of the Flood; and her most recent, MaddAddam. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.


Toronto, Ontario

Date of Birth:

November 18, 1939

Place of Birth:

Ottawa, Ontario


B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "The Heart Goes Last"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Margaret Atwood.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. If you were in Stan and Charmaine's situation, would you sign up for the Positron Project?

2. What is the significance of Charmaine's memories of Grandma Win and her cheerful aphorisms?

3. Do you think society could actually break down to the point that it does in the novel? Why or why not?

4. Bright colors figure into many descriptions in the novel, and act as a counterpoint to the drab quality of daily life in Positron. Stan and Charmaine's lockers are pink and green; the Alternates' lockers are purple and red; prison uniforms are orange; the knitted bears are blue. Do you think the colors assigned to the various objects are intentional or incidental?

5. How did your attitudes toward Stan and Charmaine change over the course of the novel?

6. The novel's title has surprising significance. When it was revealed, did you find it a clever twist or macabre and disturbing?

7. Charmaine is placed in an impossible situation when she discovers Stan on the gurney. Did she make the right choice? What would you have done?

8. No one is who he or she seems to be in Consilience. Did the shifting identities of characters make you wonder what their previous lives had been like before they came to Consilience? Would they have been better off "outside the walls"?

9. Could the Positron Project ever be a viable solution to solving societal upheaval?

10. The author is known for embracing emerging technologies, but in this work medical science and robotics are used in sinister and manipulative ways. In this sense is The Heart Goes Last a cautionary tale?

11. "The world is all before you," says Jocelyn at the close of the novel. How do you think Charmaine will adjust to freedom?

Customer Reviews

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The Heart Goes Last 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
This was my first book by Margaret Atwood, yes I know where have I been? It's not because I was trying not to. I just hadn't had the chance so far. I will say that this one was definitely a different kind of book. Not sure if this is an usual kind for her or not. But, in the whole realm of reading, it was a different kind of reading. I very much enjoyed reading the book and it definitely kept me interested. There were some definitely far out things going on in this story. I never did understand why they lived in regular housing for one month and then a prison cell for another month and then start the trend all over again. That was kind of strange. However, I guess it kept life from becoming monotonous. Also, I'm not sure I would like to share my house every other month with someone else either. But, it sure beat living in a car. I couldn't imagine that. There were some pretty creepy characters in this story. Some of them felt almost too robotic as if they felt no emotion or had no feelings. But the main characters felt and acted human. There was some mention of sex in here, but it wasn't that bad and it was referred to several times, but it wasn't like in the romance books or anything so I don't think it would be enough to put people off. I thought that while the story was strange, it was very enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it especially if your into dystopian novels. Thanks Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most ridiculous stories i have ever read, what a waste of time!
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
They lost almost everything when the economy went belly up and now they lived in their car. Stan was getting tired of the situation while Charmaine tried to remain positive although her new working conditions at the Pixel Dust bar, were less than ideal. When Charmaine saw the commercial for the Positron Project, she knew this was their way out. The Positron Project was a serious commitment and as the couple was put through a screening process and a waiting period, Stan’s brother tried to warn him about the dangers in his future. Charmaine already had made up her mind though. The project. Who thinks of these things? As I read about this idea, I had to wonder about this author and how she came up with this idea. Then, I thought about the individuals who had signed up for this type of society, freely without any pressure. Life on the outside must have been pretty miserable for them. Did they really know what lies ahead for their future? The project runs on a monthly cycle. One month an individual or a couple would live in a house and they would be treated as civilians. At the end of the month, they would go to their lockers and change their clothes. Putting on their prisoner apparel, they would now become prisoners for a month and live in another section of the project. This same exchange would occur with individuals who were prisoners last month, only they would now be putting on civilian clothes and they now would be living in the houses that the civilians just left. It’s an exchange program. The same people live in the same house only in different times, cleaning up after themselves before they leave. These individuals are to never, ever see who they share their houses with. If you think about the tone within the project, things have to be running pretty smoothly. As a resident, you experience both ends of the spectrum. For Charmaine and Stan, they were enjoying the project. Life seemed easier, they both had jobs and knew what was expected of them but of course, they hit a bump as Stan makes a discovery. The novel got pretty interesting then as it was one twist after another until I wasn’t sure what the heck was happening. There’s this master plan, I know there had to be, but who was in charge and what was the purpose? I felt like an investigator, leaping around, keeping track of all the dirt I was uncovering. By the time the whole plan was ironed out, I was shaking my head. I felt like I had been bounced around in a pinball machine during that second half of the novel. That was crazy. I liked parts of it as I felt it was very creative and interesting and there were other parts that I thought were confusing and rushed. It is after I have finished this novel that I am told that this is part of a series, I don’t know if I will read the others in the series. I’ll need to read the synopsis but I think I should have read the first book to help me understand this book better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So many hidden meanings and references to which we can all relate in this very entertaining page-turner! I highly recommend this one with a touch of nostalgia and the future, humor and fear... Read it and you put yourself into their world!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Atwood you dirty girl! You gave us a strange futuristic work that encompassed the dark, the demented and the full fledged belly laugh in this one! At first I didn't see the unique edge usually hooking the reader, but after about 80-90 pages I couldn't put it down. Thanks for my Thanksgiving desert this year! haha. This one was like a nice slice of pumpkin pie ~ but the whipped cream was so nice to lick off my fingers! Marianne C in WV
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
It’s not really a prison, more of a social contract; you live in the community half the time, and the other half someone else has your home while you serve the community. Commitment, obedience, trust in authority—all of these will be fostered in prison time and all will be well. Plus everyone’s signed the contract, so they have to agree. Of course, like any “perfect” form of government, the system might fall prey to temptation or corruption. In that gap between town-time and prison-time, what if you meet someone from the opposite schedule? What if your wife meets someone? What if…? And what if somewhere along the line you start wondering about the world outside, that fast-decaying world you left behind? Margaret Atwood peoples her near-future cities and governments with convincing characters and logical motivations. It’s fascinating, oddly compelling… and suddenly it’s terrifying too in a novel whose second half becomes an exciting ride through technology, mystery and emotion. The reader is invited to wonder what makes us human, what makes emotions real, what constitutes deception, and do we really want to be responsible for our actions. The Heart Goes Last offers insight into the human heart and questions how easily we might be deceived. It’s also a really good, if somewhat dystopian, read. Disclosure: I bought it to read on a plane and I loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spikeopolis More than 1 year ago
I'm an Atwood fan since Handmaid's Tale first hit paperback. Something's different this time around. Maybe a palate cleanser after 15 years of Madaddam? It's got all the humor, insight, humanity, sexual politics and masterful language you've come to expect, as well as a classically ambiguous Atwood ending. But her typically immersive world-building is a bit slight and the plot is, frankly, goofy. I'm a big re-reader. I've read Madaddam 4 or 5 times, and Handmaid? Too many to count. But this one will probably stay on the shelf. Still a huge fan, though!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Quite possibly the worst book I have read in years. I barely giving it a star other than the story starts out relatively interesting and then seemingly becomes nothing more than absurd sex-based dribble. I want my money back....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking . Scary. Hilarious . Absurd ---maybe not ! ? ! ? Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Timely and thought provoking novel reminiscent of "The Handmaid's Tale". Could not put it down!
ToManyBooksNotEnoughTime More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank Doubleday Books & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review. Goodreads Teaser: "Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for 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 suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over." Margaret Atwood delivers another novel of deep interest and entertainment, which will leave the reader contemplating so many things long after they've put the book down. Stan and Charmaine are you're typical middle-class Americans. At least they used to be until everything fell apart. Watching how they each dealt with the daily pressure of finding themselves adrift in a world they no longer recognize is almost like staring into a mirror out of the corner of your eye. You can imagine yourself in their shoes and wonder how you'd be reacting to their situation. I found Charmaine to be a slightly annoying ninny. She's constantly quoting her grandmother, and the quotes are all just ridiculous platitudes. She avoids anything dark or depressing, shoving all her bad memories into a place she never ventures. Her perpetually upbeat attitude in the face of extreme uncertainty annoyed me, and left me wondering about her husband Stan since he signed on for a life with this ray of blinding sunshine. Yet Stan was a more relatable character for me. He is more upfront and honest about his thoughts and feelings, even if only to himself. Yet sometimes he overloads and does lash out, which makes sense in the story and helped make him feel more realistic than Charmaine to me. The pacing and arc of the story was smooth, attesting to Atwood's innate storytelling skills. While this book isn't as clearly dystopian as some of her other stories, it's heading that way, which makes it all the more frightening because what she created feels far to close to real for me. The messed up world she envisioned feels as if it's only a few steps away from where we stand now, and there are so many people ready to step in and create their own personal playground out of the entire world. Although this tale reads as fiction, it certainly touches on highly charged current events, bringing things to light that engenders serious thought. Despite the fictional aspect of the story this is in many ways a very thought provoking novel, and one that will linger in my mind for some time to come. But then that has always been the case with books by the eminently talented Margaret Atwood.
MadelineEM More than 1 year ago
{I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.} It's not very often you run across a dystopian novel where only a portion of the population is affected by a catastrophic event. How about one where a financial crisis forced a large portion of the population, but not everyone, out of work? They cannot find work and are forced to spend their days and nights on the streets, evading roaming gangs. It's no surprise that these folks are looking for an escape. A mysterious social project where they agree to go in and never come out is a promising option. That's the premise of The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (her most famous work is The Handmaid's Tale). This premise was so promising that I could not wait to see where it ended up. Sadly, I barely made it to the end of this novel and skimmed the last 20 percent. Let me explain. Here are things I do not like in novels that were prominently featured in The Heart Goes Last: -Twisted, vengeful, rage-filled sex as a main theme. -Tiresome obsessive behavior that goes on for pages and pages and pages. -Innumerable references to sex with animals and inanimate objects that features into major plot points. -Little to no redeeming qualities in characters who I want to like, but just can't bring myself to like. -A serial adapted into a novel that has the feeling of a serial, not a novel. So, yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Unfortunately, no matter how talented Atwood is as a writer, the subject matter was simply not for me. Find more reviews at
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