Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Dystopian Fiction
Author: Margaret Atwood
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: August 27, 2013
Summary from Publisher:
Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, which is being fortified against man and giant Pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. While their reluctant prophet, Jimmy — Crake’s one-time friend — recovers from a debilitating fever, it’s left to Toby to narrate the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.
Meanwhile, Zeb searches for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. Now, under threat of an imminent Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters.
At the centre, is the extraordinary story of Zeb’s past, which involves a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge.
Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet
The much-anticipated third book in the dystopian trilogy, Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, made its exciting debut at the end of August.
For those of you who are familiar with Atwood’s work and have had the privilege of reading the previous titles in the trilogy—Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood—you’ll be pleased to discover both narrative plots come together in the last novel, MaddAddam.
The narrative is as gritty as its dystopian setting, filled with the last remnants and artifacts of an old world, one which reflects our present day.
But in MaddAddam, paved streets are rubble. Foliage is overgrown. The “waterless flood” has massacred mankind through a rare epidemic.
And two very real ideologies—one, the advocacy to preserve, restore, care for, and improve the environment by controlling pollution and protecting plant and animal diversity in the form of the book’s God’s Gardeners; along with two, the advocacy to purchase excessive amounts of goods and services through consumerism found in the form of the CorpSeCorps—both explode into two dangerous and polar extremities that make up, not only the book’s setting, but the dichotomous tension and conflict of its warring plot.
While I greatly miss the lyrical prose of the God’s Gardeners’ tone of voice that was heavily rooted in The Year of the Flood with its spiritual and prayerful homilies of nature, the seasons, and its patron saints; its lessons in DIY derelict fashion, alternative culinary arts of survival more than taste, creative, ingenious architecture; and knowledge of horticulture, its healing properties, as well as its more potent powers to kill in the form of DIY weaponry and tactics for the sake of survival—the narrative in MaddAddam is primarily raw and abrasive through the diversified talents of Zeb’s unrefined, yet chameleon character, whose stealth is as coy and intelligent as his ability to wormhole through firewalls and infiltrate computer systems and software.
Toby, too, is her own artifact of the God’s Gardener culture as the former Eve Six, who still carries within her the knowledge of its feast days, rituals, prayers, and environmental theology. But, her tone, too, has been repressed by a much more necessitated virtue during the post waterless flood—a cold and tough instinct for an exterior that ensures her female leadership and resilience towards survival.
But, it’s not only the human characters that have adapted to the new world. Through the ambition of those driven by beauty, longevity, consumerism, and ultimately power with moral boundaries stretched so thin, the ethical boundaries themselves disappear to create a number of new, hybrid, animal species.
The excitement of reading MaddAddam is the discovery of Atwood’s imagination visualized in book form through the species she’s concocted. They are creatively imaginative as they are also quite frighteningly plausible, which makes Atwood, not only a creative writer of the dystopian novel, but potentially society’s literary prophet, should we refuse to be mindful of the direction we take and how far we should take it in meeting the demands of our own ambitions and whether or not they remain ethical.
The hybrid animal species in the book, I found most entertaining.
From the Mo-Hairs, a bred animal that grows human hair in blonde, brunette, red, and black, for human hair inplants. To Pigoons, giant pigs with human brain function and cortices.
And of course, the highly anticipated story behind the growing culture of the blue-perfectly-bodied creatures created by Crake, and therefore aptly named Crakers, whose eyes are luminescent green and whose skin turns blue in maturity; whose territorial marking includes a morning ritual of communal urination by the males in the group; to mating rituals that include the sense of when a woman is “blue” and therefore ready to be mated with by first, the offering of flowers, and huge, wagging, blue penises; to their strictly vegetarian diet; and an angelic, yet purposeful, gifted, and exquisite, alien singing voice of which humans cannot imitate nor reproduce.
The creation of these highly imaginative species is what makes MaddAddam and the Oryx and Crake trilogy so compelling and creative.
Stripped of these, the plot would be at its best, predictable, if not mundane. But, plot in dystopia is usually diluted anyway by its more significant comment on society and its much-needed warnings, reprimands, or lessons.
While I was disappointed by the ending of the book, its outcome as well as its change in narrative voice from Zeb and Toby to the gentle, yet precocious Craker, Blackbeard, which felt as if Atwood simply tired from writing and therefore changed the voice to “wrap up” the story in third person summary; I did, however, appreciate that even though MaddAddam is the conclusion of the Oryx and Crake trilogy, the story itself is left open for possibility—and perhaps the possibility of another book? (Loyal Atwood fans would certainly love this!)
Regardless, it’s always a pleasure to read an Atwood novel and in particular, finish a trilogy that has showcased the darker side, as well as the potential of ourselves.
From Zeb, Toby, Crozier, Rebecca, and Swift Fox’s attempts at sipping down dandelion root coffee or ash-tasting alternatives, to their bed sheet fashion, and “God’s Gardening” labour; to the peace-loving ignorance of the Craker’s lack of knowledge of the past prior to the flood, and even prior to the truth of their own beginnings, which “hatched” from “the Egg;” it’s the Crakers’ superb innocence, intelligence, and impressionism that moves them toward a new form of Craker-Oryx-Jimmy-the-Snowman-Toby spirituality—which like the dystopian tattle-taling of this story reveals—that logic and intelligence, no matter how superior, without the restraint of morality and ethics, as well as a strong foundation of history and truth, can never truly equate the result and necessity of wisdom—oh, and yes, that life and spirituality will always find a way of surviving, thriving—and evolving.
“Oh, liobam,” I say as I throw my hands up in frustration. “Holy pigoon!” I say as I turn the last pages. I wish the book, or the trilogy, doesn’t have to end.
(And, in the best Craker singing I can fashion, I seriously consider stocking up on strong Starbucks coffee, a slew of floral, printed bed sheets, a rifle, pencils, archival paper—and also be willing and open to make new friends.)
And in honour of completing the Oryx and Crake trilogy, I plan on planting a good tree and naming today, The Feast of MaddAddam, in which no animals with “Scales or Tails,” shall be eaten.
Pacing: 4 stars
Cover Design: 3.5 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.
About the Author:
Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over 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, shortlisted for the 1989 Book Prize; Alias Grace, which was a finalist for the 1996 Booker Prize and won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize; and her most recent, The Year of the Flood. Among her many other rewards, she has also received the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award. She lies in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
– From inside jacket.
If you were to create a new species, what attributes would you want this species to have?
If you’ve read the Oryx and Crake trilogy, which group would you most likely belong to? The God’s Gardeners or the CorpSeCorps? Or somewhere in between?
Out of the trilogy, which is your favourite book? Oryx and Crake? The Year of the Flood? Or MaddAddam? Why?
In what ways do you see our society moving towards a dystopia like the one Atwood describes in MaddAddam?
How important do you think it is to know the truth of our histories?
When do our oral stories that eventually become written ones, then become historical facts? Or do they?
Do you believe spirituality and the seed of faith and religion are inherent to our species in our better understanding of the world? Why or why not?
How can we reconcile a balance between technological advancement and a preservation and protection of the environment without falling prey to either extreme?
If you were a character in one of the books in this trilogy, who would you most likely be like? An Adam? An Eve? Zeb? Toby? Pilar? Lucerne? Katrina Woo-Woo? Swift Fox? Trudy? The Rev? Glenn? A pigoon?