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ImageI was very lucky to get a ticket to hear Margaret Atwood speak about her new novel MaddAddam at the Hatchards Bloomsbury Book Club in Bedford Square at the end of August (and of course to get my copy of the book signed). (Apologies for the fuzzy photo!)

I have been an Atwood devotee since I was a teenager but this is the first time I’ve heard her speak in person, and what a thrill it was. She is such a presence, so articulate and willing to engage and debate, and I took piles of notes which I don’t intend to repeat here you’ll be relieved to note.

  • I was interested to hear that she hadn’t originally intended Oryx & Crake to be the first in a trilogy but when she finished it she realised that the abrupt ending would lead to questions and that she would have to revisit the world she had created.
  • She talked about the distinction between speculative and science fiction. She said this wasn’t about one being better than the other but about accurate labelling; when she sees something described as science fiction she expects rockets and planets and feels cheated if they aren’t present. She distinguished between two pioneers – Jules Verne (close to reality, might happen, potentially true) and HG Wells (fantastic, not real).
  • She reads the back pages of science journals to see what people are working on (and encourages us to do so too)
  • One of humanity’s first technologies was telling stories, and the ability to understand stories begins in children at an early stage, within the first year.
  • “We speculate what Spot the Dog is thinking, but he’s probably not thinking about who makes dogs”

All fascinating stuff, and the promise of more to come. I left the event even more of a fangirl than when I went in!

MaddAddamSo, MaddAddam is the final volume in the eponymous trilogy by Margaret Atwood which began with Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood which I have reviewed separately here and here respectively. At the end of the previous volume the various threads of narrative came together and we are now moving forward into the future.

After the man-made plague a small group of humans have survived and we watch them come together and try to form a community and find a way to live in a world where supplies are dwindling, there uncertainty about just how many other people are still alive, and where they have to adapt to sharing the world with the Crakers, a genetically designed species of people who were designed to replace humanity which should have been wiped out. In amongst all this there are two threats: a few extraordinarily unpleasant men who seem to enjoy nothing other than inflicting pain and misery and, more interestingly, the pigoons, genetically modified intelligent carnivorous pigs who become really key to the survival of our little group in quite unexpected ways.

Although the novel is primarily focussed on establishing a new society (albeit a very localised one) there continue to be flashbacks to the past told through the eyes of Zeb who has become the partner of my favourite character Toby, and in telling her his life story illuminates us further on the background to the creation of the plague and the founding of God’s Gardeners, a sect which turns out to have been more than it seemed.

I enjoyed MaddAddam, was pleased to find out more about characters I had come to feel strongly about, but I’m not sure that it really comes to a conclusion, unless the conclusion is that no matter how well you think you have designed something (in this case the Crakers) you cannot plan for everything and once things are out in the world they will develop as they must. And it is very amusing in places.

IMG_0312I’m glad I took the time to read the trilogy so close together as I feel that I might have got lost if I’d read them as they were published; I found them dense (in a good way), lots to think about and jeep track of. If you enjoy speculative fiction you should give these a try.

And I was thrilled to get my copy signed by the great lady herself; more of that in a future post.

Year of the FloodThe Year of the Flood is the second book in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It takes us back to the events described in Oryx & Crake (my review of that is here) but where the first novel told the story of the events around the man-made plague which devastates the world from the inside through one character, Snowman, The Year of the Flood addresses the same events from the perspective of two women in the outside world.

Though it comes as no surprise that, as we work our way through the stories of Ren and Toby, we become aware of links and connections with Snowman’s tale, some more obvious than others.

Ren is an exotic dancer who finds herself trapped in quarantine in the club where she works. Toby has taken refuge in an abandoned health spa and watches and waits on the building’s roof garden. The book alternates between the stories of each woman, and within their individual tales between the present and the past. This helps us build up a picture of the society destroyed by the actions of Crake, and gives us some clues as to why he thought it all had to be wiped away. The segregation, casual violence and exploitation of technology is vividly described in the novel, and the voices of the two women are strong and affecting.

I became particularly fond of Toby as a character, especially her involvement with the sect known as God’s Gardeners and her habit of noting the sermons and saints days and rituals that they practised. And of course her tending of the bees. Inevitably she and Ren come together and the book ends at almost the same point as Oryx & Crake, bringing the two narrative strands together and setting us up for the final instalment.

I loved this book and read it very quickly; middle books often suffer (just like middle films) from being a bridge between the set-up and the denouement and being unresolved in themselves, but I didn’t feel that was the case here at all. Perhaps it was the female point of view, perhaps it was the greater understanding it provided of the world the story is set in, perhaps it was just that I loved Toby so much, but for me (and without pre-empting my review of the final novel) this was the strongest instalment in the trilogy and the one I can see myself going back to. Very enjoyable.

Scan 1I have been reading Margaret Atwood since I got a hold of Lady Oracle when I was 15 years old and was totally smitten; that was *gulp* 36 years ago, which is really hard to have to acknowledge, so let’s move swiftly on. I have always wanted to see her in person so was thrilled to get an opportunity to hear her speak about her newest novel, MaddAddam (more of that in another post). Then I realised that I hadn’t read the previous two volumes in what has become known as the MaddAddam trilogy, so I decided to put that right.

Oryx and Crake is set in the not terribly distant future and is seen through the perspective of Snowman who believes himself to be the only survivor of humankind after a man-made plague has wiped out all but the Crakers, a genetically engineered species of humanoid. The book alternates between the difficult present where Snowman struggles to survive, and his memories of the past where he was Jimmy, the best friend of the man who would become Crake and in love with the beautiful Oryx. Before the great catastrophe, the world (or at least the world that Jimmy knew) was split into the Pleeblands, where the majority of the ordinary population lived, and the various Compounds in which the elite lived and worked for corporations and were involved in experimentation in genetic engineering, producing strange hybrid animals which are now roaming free. Snowman is a sort of guardian to the Crakers, for whom the world was swept clean. Sort of.

I thought this was a wonderful piece of speculative fiction (Atwood doesn’t like this novel to be referred to as science fiction, which I’ll pick up on in a future post). Typically I found the build up to the dreadful events more interesting than Snowman’s current struggles and if I’m honest I found the Crakers a bit irritating at first, but it as it becomes clear that their designer had not been able to remove those human traits that he considered destructive (he was not a fan of speculative fiction) they grew on me, as did Jimmy/Snowman himself.

The ending of the book is inconclusive but I quite liked that, the uncertainty of what was going to happen next seemed to me to fit well with the tone of the novel, although I don’t believe at the time that Atwood had a trilogy planned, though se has said that she realised that readers would have questions which she aimed to respond to in the later books.

This had sufficient impact for me to start the sequel immediately, something that I hardly ever do (in fact I can’t think of the last time that happened). More of that anon.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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