I’m struggling with how to review this one. I’m torn between my love/worship of Margaret Atwood, my admiration for the world she’s created in this trilogy, and my “meh” reaction to this book.
Atwood has created a future world that is so detailed, down to the names of food products and chain strip clubs. It’s an ugly world, violent and dark, but a sadly realistic one. Unfortunately, I think this third book, which pulls together so many characters and backstories, makes it difficult to really draw you in as a reader. It’s like you’re always standing on the outside. Intellectually, it’s amazing, but it doesn’t make you feel.
I can’t even summarize the plot of this book, because most of the plot relies on having read Oryx and Crake (which I highly recommend) and The Year of the Flood. In some ways I think Oryx and Crake might have been better as a standalone book. Unfortunately, there’s a little too much telling the same story three times. This third book ties a lot of it together: the Gardeners, the MaddAddamites, and the Crakers. We finally understand who everyone is and where they came from. The only problem is that all these revelations aren’t so exciting now that the action has mostly happened already.
Another difficulty is the present-day plot in MaddAddam is pretty weak. A good chunk of the book is spent looking back at Toby and Zeb’s experiences before the Flood, but the present-day story revolves around this community living in fear of two thugs called Painballers. We know they are scary but we barely see them in this book, so it’s hard to get too worked up.
The part that really worked for me was that of the humans adapting to living side by side with the Crakers. The Crakers are a new, more perfect genetic race, but they are naive like children. Toby develops a relationship with a young Craker, and takes on the role of telling the Crakers their nightly “story” about their creators (which is basically their religion). Atwood is brilliant as Toby has to interpret the events of her brutal world into language the Crakers can understand. And both sides need to learn to live together if they’re going to survive.
This isn’t a great review because I left out most of the details. If you love Margaret Atwood or dystopic fiction, you have to read Oryx and Crake. I really wanted to love this one, but didn’t. It would have been better to read these books close together, because I suspect I lost a lot of meaning by reading them years apart. Atwood provides a helpful and very necessary synopsis at the beginning of MaddAddam – but this story is so complex, and has so many locking parts, it took some work to understand. I never mind a book that makes me work, but here it just felt like the work didn’t lead to that a-ha moment I was hoping for.
I haven’t read this one yet because I am re-reading the first two. Like you’ve said, I’ve heard that MaddAddam really relies on the first two books, and my memory is rubbish! I’m still looking forward to reading MaddAddam, just need to find the time! I bought it the day it came out!
I, too, admired ORYX & CRAKE and had no trouble giving it the benefit of the doubt, i.e., believing that a great human story lay beneath the trappings of ideology. I wasn’t disappointed. I happen to agree with many points of the environmental doomsday scenario that the book presents, which I am calling “ideology” here. Indeed, I enjoy sic-fi best when it makes a social or philosophical point. But also I think it must be easy for an author to become so adamant about his or her urgent concerns that the “teaching” aspect of the narrative overtakes—or, at least, complicates—the story-telling. I haven’t gotten to MADDaDDAM yet, but I saw a bit of this tendency in O&C, so can’t help suspect it might prevail in this latest book.