MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury – August, 2013)
MaddAddam is the final instalment in the trilogy which began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, although each book can be read as a stand-alone work. There is a summary of the plots of the first two books at the beginning of MaddAddam though, in case you haven’t read them.
Margaret Atwood’s speculative reality is frighteningly plausible. It owes something to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in its catchy slogans and chemical solutions. The world is not run by governments, but by corporations. The elite class are those who work for the most powerful corporations—they live in cloistered compounds, segregated from the dangers and poverty of the Pleeblands (where the plebs live.) The vibrant pink, green and white cover design perfectly communicates the kitsch aesthetic that coats the facade of this world. It is not a dark, brooding dystopia; it is a luminous world of bright colours and chippy catchphrases that is somehow even more sinister in its very plasticity. It also blurs the line between dystopia and satire; there are genetically modified animals, genetically modified food, ‘HappiCuppa’ coffee and dodgy ‘Secret Burgers’—there is even a mention of fracking. The world of MaddAddam is close to home.
The timelines of the first two books run parallel but MaddAddam begins where both of these two books end. The ‘waterless flood’—Crake’s super-virus—has wiped out the majority of humankind. Only those who were isolated from the virus or were given immunity by Crake have survived. The book is told primarily from the perspective of Toby who we met in The Year of Flood. Though this book does tell what happens next it also dips back into the past to explain some of Zeb’s history, his relationship to Adam One and the split between God’s Gardeners, the environmental religious group, and the more militant anarchists, the MaddAddamites. We learn more about the origins of the characters and the events leading up to the plague even as they struggle to secure their future in a post-human earth. There are many dangers lurking in the new world—Toby’s murderous painballer stalkers also escaped the virus and are still on the loose, and the hyper-intelligent Pigoons seem to be plotting something. The pigoons, genetically modified pigs, were originally developed with organ transplants in mind and so have had human brain tissue implanted in them—a tribute to George Orwell perhaps.
There is another plane of reality though; the world of the Crakers—a genetically engineered race created by Crake. We experience the post-flood world through their eyes as well as through the perspective of the human survivors. To their minds Crake is God, and his act of genocide was benevolent wisdom. Jimmy (AKA Snowman) is delirious with an infected wound in his foot and Toby takes over as chief storyteller to the Crakers. Her stories will form the metanarrative of this post-apocalyptic world:
Yes, good, kind Crake. Please stop singing. You don’t have to sing every time. I’m sure Crake likes it, but he also likes this story and he wants to hear the rest.
Then one day Crake got rid of the chaos and the hurtful people, to make Oryx happy, and to clear a safe place for you to live in.
Yes, that did make things smell very bad for a while.
And then Crake went to his own place, up in the sky, and Oryx went with him.
I don’t know why they went. It must have been a good reason. And they left Snowman-the-Jimmy to take care of you, and he brought you to the seashore.
Toby’s stories contribute much of the humour of the book as well; here she comes up with an explanation for Jimmy’s profanity:
Fuck lived in the air and flew around like a bird, which was how he could be with Zeb one minute, and then with Crake, and then also with Snowman-the-Jimmy. He could be in many places at once. If you were in trouble and you called to him – Oh Fuck! – he would always be there, just when you needed him. And as soon as you said his name, you would feel better.
Despite the gloomy premise MaddAddam somehow remains an optimistic read. Margaret Atwood’s prose is always pitch-perfect—she blends semantic silliness with sincerity to create a profound and moving book. It was a pleasure to lose myself in this vibrant world.