Maddaddam

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Maddaddam- Maragaret Atwood

The cover of my copy of Maddaddam warns that it’s a wild ride, and it’s not wrong. This is the final instalment of the Maddaddam trilogy and my expectations were high. It didn’t disappoint.

The novel follows the ragtag group of God’s gardeners, Painballers, Crakers and Jimmy who have assembled on the beach at the end of The Year of the Flood. At the end of the second book, the Painballers are tied up but not killed, Amanda is traumatised, Jimmy gravely ill and the future of the world looking uncertain. At the start of Maddaddam the brutal Painballers trick the Crakers into releasing them and the group find a new home and start to rebuild their lives, as much as is possible in this post-apocalyptic world. Once again, much of the novel focuses on a character’s backstory, this time the story of Zeb, the former Adam Seven of the God’s Gardeners. We find out about his difficult childhood and his subsequent escape with his brother Adam- and no, it’s no coincidence that his brother is called that.

What I loved about this novel was how flawlessly it tied in with the other two; it’s as though each novel contains several piece of the puzzle, and they all fit together perfectly. There are some surprising revelations (who knew the creator of Scales and Tails, the sex club for which Ren worked, would turn out to be Eve One?) and there are more of Atwood’s fantastic dystopian inventions, such as a sexual online beheading game and the church of PetrOleum, a religious cult based on the worship of oil (not so hard to imagine, is it?). There’s also a lot of humour, much of which derives from the Crakers believing that ‘Fuck’ is a helpful spirit after hearing Jimmy curse.

It was great finding out more about Zeb in Maddaddam, since he’s a character who’s always raised a few questions, and I loved the development of Zeb and Toby’s relationship, although I would have liked to see a little more of the Ren-Crozier and Ren-Jimmy relationships. Ren is seen caring for Jimmy but some interaction from their own perspectives would have been nice- I would have liked to have listened in on a conversation between them and to know what he thought of her. Although Ren and Crozier end up very much a couple, we are made away that Crozier is unfaithful to Ren with Swift Fox, a character you’re pretty much guaranteed to hate. As far as we know, Ren is never made fully aware of his cheating and for all we know he might do it again which is somewhat frustrating, but also reflects a lot of relationships in real life.

The survivors’  main quest in Maddaddam is to destroy the escaped Painballers and find Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners sect. There’s a very touching moment between Zeb and Adam One and an exciting conflict, but just as you think things are resolved, Atwood has to stick the knife in one more time. The book’s epilogue, quite frankly, annoyed me. Two characters die (I won’t say which ones) in a rather anticlimactic sort of way that also leaves you with some unanswered questions. If these characters had died in the main conflict, I would have been sad, but accepting. It happens. But why seemingly resolve everything only to quickly pen an unsatisfactory ending for the characters? Yeah yeah, it’s probably a more accurate reflection of what living in a post-apocalyptic world would be like: no happily ever afters and you’d never be truly safe- BUT STILL.

This annoying epilogue aside, however, Maddaddam is a fitting end to the trilogy and it certainly didn’t fall flat. The trilogy has been incredible and an absolute pleasure to read, and I’m sad it’s over. Still, there’s the HBO series to look forward to, although I personally think that the structure of the books mean they’d work much better as films. With a film series, you could turn each novel into a film and include the backstories no problem, but I can’t see how that’s going to work with a TV series. So much of the books are set in the past and the backstories are really quite separate, so it’ll be interesting to see how HBO will handle that. Still, Margaret Atwood herself is one of the writers so I’m told, so things look promising!

Have YOU read Maddaddam? What did you think? Did you like the ending? Please leave your comments!

Oryx and Crake

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This is my first blog post in over a year, so please bear with me if it’s a little substandard! I won’t bore you with the reasons I haven’t written, but essentially university and travelling mean that I haven’t had a lot of time to write, or to many books to blog about (unless you’d all enjoy a review of ‘Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Speaking People’?). However, I have read some books along the way that are most definitely worthy of a mention, and none so more than Margaret Atwood’s ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy and so I’m going to write a review of each book over the next three days.

Right, that’s enough pre-amble; on with the review…

I received Oryx and Crake and its sequel, The Year of the Flood, as Christmas presents from my sister. I knew Margaret Atwood was a critically acclaimed and prolific writer, but I wasn’t sure that the novels were going to be my cup of tea. I’ve dipped my digits in the dystopian before (The Hunger Games, 1984) but it’s not a genre I frequent, and I’ll admit that at first terms such as ‘pigeons’ and ‘Crakers’ did baffle me a bit. This wasn’t an issue for long, however, as Atwood has such a clear way of explaining her outrageous creations, although perhaps that’s because the world she describes is frighteningly possible. A few chapters in and I was hooked.

Oryx and Crake tells the story of Jimmy (a.k.a. Snowman), the last surviving human who has been entrusted with the care of the Crakers. The human race has been all but wiped out and the Crakers are sort of like Humanity 2.0- they’re humans with all of the flaws removed. As Jimmy remembers his life, his friendship with Crake (the creator of the Crakers) and their relationship with the beautiful and enigmatic Oryx, we learn about the dystopian world which existed before humanity was culled, and how the cull was brought about. It’s a fascinating portrayal of a terribly corrupted world, as well as one of love, loneliness, nostalgia, bitterness and jealousy.

Atwood has denied that her novel is science fiction and has instead called it ‘speculative fiction’, which I agree is a much more fitting term. Yes, the world of Oryx and Crake is saturated with corruption and dishonesty, but it isn’t that dissimilar to our own. Yes, Jimmy is in a unique and rather improbable situation (or so we’d like to think), but he’s something of an everyman. He isn’t a particularly good character, nor is he particularly bad. Throughout the novel attention is frequently drawn to his averageness, especially in comparison with brilliant Crake, and this averageness allows- perhaps even forces- the reader to relate to Jimmy, to put his or herself in his situation. You come to the realisation that you are Jimmy, that he does what you would do, that he feels as you would feel. You can no longer palm off the story as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impossible’; you are drawn into it and forced to confront it. By giving Oryx and Crake an unremarkable protagonist, Atwood renders it a remarkable novel.

But the novel’s merits don’t end there. Atwood’s writing style is incredibly easy to read without ever feeling simplistic, and full of shrewd observations about human nature. She’s often very funny too, particularly in the scenes with the naive Crakers, who know nothing about the world before. One such incidence is when Snowman, irritated by their incessant questioning, tells them to “Piss off” and they endearingly respond “What is ‘piss off’?”. The mixture of past and present Atwood uses is also compelling; we delve into Jimmy’s past but are never allowed to forget his present and we discover enough at a time to interest us, yet leave us wanting more.

Oryx and Crake is a novel that’s hard to sum up. It’s beautiful, brutal, funny and painful. At first it seems far-fetched, then it becomes a little too close for comfort. It’s romantic but realistic. It deals with universal human emotions, yet it’s not an overly sentimental novel- some critics have gone as far to say that Atwood’s writing is unemotional, but I disagree with that entirely. In short, it’s a work of genius and I’d recommend it to everyone. You don’t have to be a sci-fi lover (I’m certainly not) or a serious bookworm to enjoy them; I’d say they have a pretty universal appeal as there are so many different elements to the story- you’re bound to find something you like in there!

(I was going to include a discussion on an event near the end of the novel in this post but decided better of it due to spoilers. The post will follow shortly!)

Have YOU read Oryx and Crake? What did you think? Please leave me your comments here!