Margaret Atwood's new novel can be read as the dramatic conclusion of the trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but it possesses enough resonance of its own to be read as a standalone. Certainly, as rendered by the talented Canadian author, the ongoing struggle of Toby, Zeb, Ren, and Amanda to survive in a post-apocalyptic world holds our fervent attention. (P.S. Atwood is renowned as the creator of literary science fiction. Among her honors is an Arthur C. Clarke Award.)
In this wrap-up to the magisterial trilogy begun with Oryx & Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood, a waterless flood has wiped out most of humanity. While Ren and Toby have returned to the MaddAddamite cob house, the story really belongs to Zeb, who searches for God's Gardeners founder Adam One as his own past is disclosed.
The New York Times Book Review - Andrew Sean Greer
What a joy it is to see Margaret Atwood taking such delicious pleasure in the end of the world…In MaddAddam, the third volume of Atwood's apocalyptic MaddAddam trilogy, she has sent the survivors of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood to a compound where they await a final showdown. But what gives MaddAddam such tension and light are the final revelations of how this new world came to be, and how the characters made their way to this battle for the future of humanity. Atwood has brought the previous two books together in a fitting and joyous conclusion that's an epic not only of an imagined future but of our own past, an exposition of how oral storytelling traditions led to written ones and ultimately to our sense of origin…Atwood's prose miraculously balances humor, outrage and beauty.
The final entry in Atwood’s brilliant MaddAddam trilogy roils with spectacular and furious satire. The novel begins where Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood end, just after most of the human species has been eradicated by a man-made plague. The early books explore a world of terrifying corporate tyranny, horrifying brutality, and the relentless rape of women and the planet. In Oryx and Crake, the pandemic leaves wounded protagonist Jimmy to watch over the Crakers, a humanoid species bioengineered to replace humankind by the man responsible for unleashing the plague. In The Year of the Flood, MaddAddamites wield science to terrorize corporate villains while God’s Gardeners use prayer and devotion to the Earth to prepare for the approaching cataclysm. Toby, a God’s Gardener and key character in the second book, narrates the third installment, in which a few survivors, including MaddAddamites, God’s Gardeners, Jimmy, and the Crakers, navigate a postapocalyptic world. Toby is reunited with Zeb, her MaddAddamite romantic interest in Year of the Flood, and the two become leaders and defenders of their new community. The survivors are a traumatized, cynical group with harshly tested self-preservation skills, but they have the capacity for love and self-sacrifice, which in a simpler story would signal hope for the future of humankind. However, Atwood dramatizes the importance of all life so convincingly that readers will hesitate to assume that the perpetuation of a species as destructive as man is the novel’s central concern. With childlike stubbornness, even the peaceful Crakers demand mythology and insist on deifying people whose motives they can’t understand. Other species genetically engineered for exploitation by now-extinct corporations roam the new frontier; some are hostile to man, including the pigoons—a powerful and uniquely perceptive source of bacon and menace. Threatening humans, Crakers, and pigoons are Painballers—former prisoners dehumanized in grotesque life-or-death battles. The Crakers cannot fight, the bloodthirsty Painballers will not yield, and the humans are outnumbered by the pigoons. Happily, Atwood has more surprises in store. Her vision is as affirming as it is cautionary, and the conclusion of this remarkable trilogy leaves us not with a sense of despair at mankind’s failings but with a sense of awe at humanity’s barely explored potential to evolve. Agent: Phoebe Larmore, Larmore Literary Agency. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Atwood has brought the previous two books together in a fitting and joyous conclusion that’s an epic not only of an imagined future but of our own past, an exposition of how oral storytelling traditions led to written ones and ultimately to our sense of origin ... Atwood's prose miraculously balances humor, outrage and beauty. A simple description becomes both chilling and sublime ... In so much genre fiction, language is sacrificed to plot and invention. It's a pleasure to read a futuristic novel whose celebration of beauty extends to the words themselves." —The New York Times Book Review
"Thoughtful, sardonic, and full of touches that almost resemble a fairy tale, MaddAddam will stick with you long after you've put it down. It's an apocalypse story about new life, and a condemnation of humanity that ends, however uneasily, with a celebration of it." —NPR
"MaddAddam is sharp, witty and strong enough to stand alone ... Peppered with witty neologisms, Atwood’s character-driven novel is terrific precisely because of close attention to detail, to voice, to what’s in the hearts of these people: love, loss, the need to keep on keeping on, no matter what ... [T]his novel sings." —Miami Herald
"[S]ardonically funny ... [Atwood] certainly has the tone exactly right, both for the linguistic hypocrisy that can disguise any kind of catastrophe, and for the contemptuous dismissal of those who point to disaster ... MaddAddam is at once a pre- and a post-apocalypse story." —The Wall Street Journal
"[T]here is something funny, even endearing, about such a dark and desperate view of a future — a ravaged world emerging from alarmingly familiar trends — that is so jam-packed with the gifts of imagination, invention, intelligence and joy. There may be some hope for us yet." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Margaret Atwood continues to flourish as she approaches her fifth decade of publication ... A thrilling and enchanting — funny, sad, clever, audacious — tale of grumpy, deflated, and perilous post-apocalyptic times, year 0.6." —The Vancouver Sun
"[T]he imaginative universe Atwood has created in these books is huge ... It's a dystopia, but it's still fun ... Atwood doesn't just ask what if, she raises an eyebrow and says, See where we're going? Yet she's not a pessimist: She's invented a future large enough to include, after the end of the world, people falling in love." —Los Angeles Times
"This unsentimental narrative exposes the heart of human creativity as well as our self-destructive darkness ... MaddAddam is fueled with edgy humor, sardonic twists, hilarious coincidences." —Boston Globe
"The final entry in Atwood’s brilliant MaddAddam trilogy roils with spectacular and furious satire ... Her vision is as affirming as it is cautionary, and the conclusion of this remarkable trilogy leaves us not with a sense of despair at mankind’s failings but with a sense of awe at humanity’s barely explored potential to evolve." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Ten years after Oryx & Crake rocked readers the world over, Atwood brings her cunning, impish, and bracing speculative trilogy—following The Year of the Flood—to a gritty, stirring, and resonant conclusion ... Atwood is ascendant, from her resilient characters to the feverishly suspenseful plot involving battles, spying, cyberhacking, murder, and sexual tension ... The coruscating finale in an ingenious, cautionary trilogy of hubris, fortitude, wisdom, love, and life’s grand obstinacy." —Booklist
"[T]ense and exciting ... MaddAddam is an extraordinary achievement ... Atwood's body of work will last precisely because she has told us about ourselves. It is not always a pretty picture, but it is true for all that." —The Independent (UK)
"[MaddAddam] deploys its author's trademark cool, omniscient satire, but adds to that a real sense of engagement with a fallen world. Atwood has created something reminiscent of Shakespeare's late comedies; her wit and dark humour combine with a compassionate tenderness towards struggling human beings." —The Independent (UK)
Atwood closes her post-apocalyptic trilogy (Oryx and Crake, 2003; The Year of the Flood, 2009) with a study of a small camp of survivors, redolent with suggestions about how new-world mythologies are made. The main narrator, Toby, is a gatherer of strays at MaddAddam, an enclave of survivors of the previous years' plague and environmental collapse. Amanda was tormented by vicious "Painballers"; Snowman, the hero of Oryx and Crake, is recovering from a grotesque foot wound; and a small tribe of "Crakers," genetically engineered humanoids, are on site as well. Atwood's story moves in two directions. Looking backward, Toby's love, Zeb, recalls the history of the scientists who set this odd new world in motion while greedy evangelists like his father clung to rapidly depleting oil and cash reserves. Looking forward, the MaddAddamites must police the compound for Painballers out for revenge. As with many post-apocalyptic tales, the past is much more interesting than the present: Zeb's story is a cross sections of end-times North America, from Grand Guignol entertainments to pharmaceutical horrors, and Atwood weaves in some off-the-shelf contempt for casual sexism, consumerism and god-playing. In comparison, the closing confrontation between the MaddAddamites and Painballers is thin, though the alliances are provocative: The Crakers partner with large, genetically engineered pigs--pigoons--to help the surviving humans who unnaturally made them. In numerous interludes, Toby attempts to explain this world to the Crakers, and their dialogue, rife with miscommunications, is at once comic and strongly biblical in tone. Societies invent origin stories, Atwood suggests, by stripping off nuance for simplicity's sake. But Atwood herself has taken care to layer this story with plenty of detail--and, like most post-apocalyptic novelists, closes out the story with just a touch of optimism. By no means her finest work, but Atwood remains an expert thinker about human foibles and how they might play out on a grand scale.
Read an Excerpt
The Story of the Egg, and of Oryx and Crake, and how they made People and Animals; and of the Chaos; and of Snowman-the-Jimmy; and of the Smelly Bone and the coming of the Two Bad Men
In the beginning, you lived inside the Egg. That is where Crake made you.
Yes, good, kind Crake. Please stop singing or I can’t go on with the story.
The Egg was big and round and white, like half a bubble, and there were trees inside it with leaves and grass and berries. All the things you like to eat.
Yes, it rained inside the Egg.
No, there was not any thunder.
Because Crake did not want any thunder inside the Egg.
And all around the Egg was the chaos, with many, many people who were not like you.
Because they had an extra skin. That skin is called clothes. Yes, like mine.
And many of them were bad people who did cruel and hurtful things to one another, and also to the animals. Such as . . . We don’t need to talk about those things right now.
And Oryx was very sad about that, because the animals were her Children. And Crake was sad because Oryx was sad.
And the chaos was everywhere outside the Egg. But inside the Egg there was no chaos. It was peaceful there.
And Oryx came every day to teach you. She taught you what to eat, she taught you to make fire, she taught you about the animals, her Children. She taught you to purr if a person is hurt. And Crake watched over you.
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. And on Fish Days you caught a fish for him, and he ate it.
I know you would never eat a fish, but Snowman-the-Jimmy is different.
Because he has to eat a fish or he would get very sick.
Because that is the way he is made.
Then one day Snowman-the-Jimmy went to see Crake. And when he came back, there was a hurt on his foot. And you purred on it, but it did not get better.
And then the two bad men came. They were left over from the chaos.
I don’t know why Crake didn’t clear them away. Maybe they were hiding under a bush, so he didn’t see them. But they’d caught Amanda, and they were doing cruel and hurtful things to her.
We don’t need to talk about those things right now.
And Snowman-the-Jimmy tried to stop them. And then I came, and Ren, and we caught the two bad men and tied them to a tree with a rope. Then we sat around the fire and ate soup. Snowman-the-Jimmy ate the soup, and Ren, and Amanda. Even the two bad men ate the soup.
Yes, there was a bone in the soup. Yes, it was a smelly bone.
I know you do not eat a smelly bone. But many of the Children of Oryx like to eat such bones. Bobkittens eat them, and rakunks, and pigoons, and liobams. They all eat smelly bones. And bears eat them.
I will tell you what a bear is later.
We don’t need to talk any more about smelly bones right now.
And as they were all eating the soup, you came with your torches, because you wanted to help Snowman-the-Jimmy, because of his hurt foot. And because you could tell there were some women who were blue, so you wanted to mate with them.
You didn’t understand about the bad men, and about why they had a rope on them. It is not your fault they ran away into the forest. Don’t cry.
Yes, Crake must be very angry with the bad men. Perhaps he will send some thunder.
Yes, good, kind Crake.
Please stop singing.
About the events of that evening--the events that set human malice loose in the world again--Toby later made two stories. The first story was the one she told out loud, to the Children of Crake; it had a happy outcome, or as happy as she could manage. The second, for herself alone, was not so cheerful. It was partly about her own idiocy, her failure to pay attention, but also it was about speed. Everything had happened so quickly.
She’d been tired, of course; she must have been suffering from an adrenalin plunge. After all, she’d been going strong for two days with a lot of stress and not much to eat.
The day before, she and Ren had left the safety of the MaddAddam cobb-house enclave that sheltered the few survivors from the global pandemic that had wiped out humanity. They’d been tracking Ren’s best friend, Amanda, and they’d found her just in time because the two Painballers who’d been using her had almost used her up. Toby was familiar with the ways of such men: she’d been almost killed by one of them before she’d become a God’s Gardener. Anyone who’d survived Painball more than once had been reduced to the reptilian brain. Sex until you were worn to a fingernail was their mode; after that, you were dinner. They liked the kidneys.
Toby and Ren had crouched in the shrubbery while the Painballers argued over the rakunk they were eating, and whether to attack the Crakers, and what to do next with Amanda. Ren had been scared silly; Toby hoped she wouldn’t faint, but she couldn’t worry about that because she was nerving herself to fire. Which to shoot first, the bearded one or the shorthair? Would the other have time to grab their spraygun? Amanda wouldn’t be able to help, or even run: they had a rope around her neck, with the other end tied to the leg of the bearded one. A wrong move by Toby, and Amanda would be dead.
Then a strange man had shambled out of the bushes, sunburnt and scabby and naked and clutching a spraygun, and had almost shot everyone in sight, Amanda included. But Ren had screamed and run into the clearing, and that had been enough of a distraction. Toby had stepped out, rifle aimed; Amanda had torn free; and the Painballers had been subdued with the aid of some groin kicks and a rock, and tied up with their own rope and with strips torn from the pink AnooYoo Spa top-to-toe sun coverup that Toby had been wearing.
Ren had then busied herself with Amanda, who was possibly in shock, and also with the scabby naked man, whom she called Jimmy. She’d wrapped him up in the rest of the top-to-toe, talking to him softly; it seemed he was a long-ago boyfriend of hers.
Now that things were tidier, Toby had felt she could relax. She’d steadied herself with a Gardener breathing exercise, timing it to the soothing rhythm of the nearby waves--wish-wash, wish-wash--until her heart had slowed to normal. Then she’d cooked a soup.
And then the moon had risen.
The rising moon signalled the beginning of the God’s Gardeners Feast of Saint Julian and All Souls: a celebration of God’s tenderness and compassion for all creatures. The universe is held in the hollow of His hand, as Saint Julian of Norwich taught us in her mystic vision so long ago. Forgiveness must be offered, loving kindness must be practised, circles must be unbroken. All souls means all, no matter what they may have done. At least from moonrise to moonset.
Once the Gardener Adams and Eves taught you something, you stayed taught. It would have been next to impossible for her to kill the Painballers on that particular night--butcher them in cold blood, since by that time the two of them were firmly roped to a tree.
Amanda and Ren had done the roping. They’d been to Gardener school together where they’d done a lot of crafts with recycled materials, so they were proficient at knotwork. Those guys looked like macramé.
On that blessed Saint Julian’s evening, Toby had set the weaponry to one side--her own antiquated rifle and the Painballers’ spraygun, and Jimmy’s spraygun as well. Then she’d played the kindly godmother, ladling out the soup, dividing up the nutrients for all to share.
She must have been mesmerized by the spectacle of her own nobility and kindness. Getting everyone to sit in a circle around the cozy evening fire and drink soup together--even Amanda, who was so traumatized she was almost catatonic; even Jimmy, who was shivering with fever and talking to a dead woman who was standing in the flames. Even the two Painballers: did she really think they would have a conversion experience and start hugging bunnies? It’s a wonder she didn’t sermonize as she doled out the bone soup. Some for you, and some for you, and some for you! Shed the hatred and viciousness! Come into the circle of light!
But hatred and viciousness are addictive. You can get high on them. Once you’ve had a little, you start shaking if you don’t get more.
As they were eating the soup, they’d heard voices approaching through the shoreline trees. It was the Children of Crake, the Crakers--the strange gene-spliced quasi-humans who lived by the sea. They were filing through the trees, carrying pitch-pine torches and singing their crystalline songs.
Toby had seen these people only briefly, and in daytime. Gleaming in the moonlight and the torchlight, they were even more beautiful. They were all colours--brown, yellow, black, white--and all heights, but each was perfect. The women were smiling serenely; the men were in full courtship mode, holding out bunches of flowers, their naked bodies like a fourteen-year-old’s comic-book rendition of how bodies ought to be, each muscle and ripple defined and glistening. Their bright blue and unnaturally large penises were wagging from side to side like the tails of friendly dogs.
Afterwards, Toby could never quite remember the sequence of events, if you could call it a sequence. It had been more like a pleebland street brawl: rapid action, tangled bodies, a cacophony of voices.
Where is the blue? We can smell the blue! Look, there is Snowman! He is thin! He is very sick!
Ren: Oh shit, it’s the Crakers. What if they want . . . Look at their . . . Crap!
The Craker women, spotting Jimmy: Let us help Snowman! He needs us to purr!
The Craker men, sniffing Amanda: She is the blue one! She smells blue! She wants to mate with us! Give her the flowers! She will be happy!
Amanda, scared: Stay away! I don’t . . . Ren, help me! Four large, beautiful, flower-toting naked men close in on her. Toby! Get them away from me! Shoot them!
The Craker women: She is sick. First we have to purr on her. To make her better. And give her a fish?
The Craker men: She is blue! She is blue! We are happy! Sing to her!
The other one is blue also.
That fish is for Snowman. We must keep that fish.
Ren: Amanda, maybe just take the flowers, or they might get mad or something . . .
Toby, her voice thin and ineffectual: Please, listen, stand back, you’re frightening . . .
What is this? Is this a bone? Several of the women, peering into the soup pot: Are you eating this bone? It smells bad.
We do not eat bones. Snowman does not eat bones, he eats a fish. Why do you eat a smelly bone?
It is Snowman’s foot that is smelling like a bone. A bone left by vultures. Oh Snowman, we must purr on your foot!
Jimmy, feverish: Who are you? Oryx? But you’re dead. Everyone’s dead. Everyone in the whole world, they’re all dead . . . He starts crying.
Do not be sad, Oh Snowman. We have come to help.
Toby: Maybe you shouldn’t touch . . . that’s infected . . . he needs . . .
Jimmy: Ow! Fuck!
Oh Snowman, do not kick. It will hurt your foot. Several of them begin to purr, making a noise like a kitchen mixer.
Ren, calling for help: Toby! Toby! Hey! Let go of her!
Toby looks over, across the fire: Amanda has disappeared in a flickering thicket of naked male limbs and backs. Ren throws herself into the sprawl and is quickly submerged.
Toby: Wait! Don’t . . . Stop that! What should she do? This is a major cultural misunderstanding. If only she had a pail of cold water!
Muffled cries. Toby rushes to help, but then:
One of the Painballers: Hey you! Over here!
These ones smell very bad. They smell like dirty blood. Where is the blood?
What is this? This is a rope. Why are they tied up with a rope?
Snowman showed us rope before, when he lived in a tree. Rope is for making his house. Oh Snowman, why is the rope tied to these men?
This rope is hurting these ones. We must take it away.
A Painballer: Yeah, that’s right. We’re in fucking agony. (Groans.)
Toby: Don’t touch them, they’ll . . .
The second Painballer: Fucking hurry up, Blueballs, before that old bitch . . .
Toby: No! Don’t untie . . . Those men will . . .
But it was already too late. Who knew the Crakers could be so quick with knots?
The two men were gone into the darkness, leaving behind them a snarl of rope and a scattering of embers. Idiot, Toby thought. You should have been merciless. Bashed their heads in with a rock, slit their throats with your knife, not even wasted any bullets on them. You were a dimwit, and your failure to act verges on criminal negligence.
It was hard to see--the fire was fading--but she made a quick inventory: at least her rifle was still there, a small mercy. But the Painballer spraygun was missing. Pinhead, she told herself. So much for your Saint Julian and the loving kindness of the universe.