MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
Adult fiction rambles by M
(haha, there’s a short video of Atwood somewhere, cracking a smile about MaddAddam’s dark humour, “parental guidance and all that”!)
Thanks to Hatchards Bloomsbury Book Club, my copy of MaddAddam turned up early enough for me to be an advanced reader before any of the mainstream reviews surfaced. So I read it whole, then made some notes, then read some mixed reviews, and then met Margaret Atwood. A couple of other things happened too and now, these are my thoughts-at-this-juncture on MaddAddam. It's a bit uncharacteristically gushy. For a succint overview of the plot, look somewhere else.
Punning satire and parody, MaddAddam is earnestly comical cult fiction. Forget literary salons, guys, the next cosplay is MaddAddam CampGeek at my place via PulpFiction-cum-RockyHorrorPictureShow-cum-BoneyM (and if we can fix the world too, great). And then we can watch Aidan Quinn (sorry Offred) and maybe eat cake (morally disordered, of course). If ever there was an impetus for me doing fan-fiction, MaddAddam is it (wonder what the Toad’s copyright regime is...).
So yes, if you haven’t read any of it, the trilogy’s a Margaret Atwood blast: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and then MaddAddam. And then read The Blind Assassin: the parallels between her latest offering and her Booker winner are mad! There’s plenty of overlapping pulp fiction in that winner.
Trilogy- and plot-wise, all three overlap but fill gaps and provide alternative perspectives on the same events: the story behind the MaddAddam ARG and organisation, the apocalyptic time and the fallout. But in MaddAddam, Atwood brings storytelling to the forefront as the novel’s form is structured around Toby’s night-time storytelling. This could be be seen as the development of the chapters in a new Crakers’ gospel, much as the God’s Gardener’s from The Year of the Flood had their psalms/songs. Toby even creates the possibility for the addition of new testaments through Blackbeard. Indeed, each of the three novels are a new testament on the same central story.
Comic. Above anything else, for me, MaddAddam is funny; at times it is farcical. Known for her caustically detailed observations about our lived and culturally-enhanced humanities, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam is nothing if not a moment of let’s-laugh-and-cry at ourselves. Much of the humour feels like it has developed straight from a creative stream-of-consciousness brainstorming session that delights in wordplay. God’s Gardeners, it’s cutting bloody dark fun.
Of wordplay there is plenty and the novel's central themes, for me, are about words and meaning particularly in the context of storytelling, both written and spoken, and with multiple narrators over periods of time. In some ways, this has threaded all through the whole trilogy and were present in The Blind Assassin.
For other readers, eco-political themes will ring loudest. And of course, as with many of her novels, Atwood also grapples with sexual and romantic relationships. Sexual relationships and particularly monogamous versus polygamous relationships, romance versus biological reproduction and consensual acts versus abuse abound in the MaddAddamite trilogy. MaddAddam shows – clearly – how blurred lines really are. An example of this is an “energetic” pun on foreplay which in some ways is a reprehensible bang.
At the same time, despite her matter of fact and non-sentimental style, MaddAdam, like The Handmaid’s Tale, is also a smouldering love story. For the critics who suggest that MaddAddam sacrifices characterisation, in my mind, they’ve missed the point/s. Nowhere are Zeb and Toby more real than in this novel. Shucks, I even shed a tear (note the singularity). And look at the Crakers whom we first meet and the Crakers that we leave.
Singing: this seems to work as some sort of motif or extended metaphor. Zeb sings little ditties when he’s frightened or stressed. Gospel singers sing. The Crakers sing. Adam, Toby, Crake and eventually, Blackbeard, don’t like singing. But Toby also learns that the Crakers’ singing is something that might save them. I even asked Margaret Atwood about it.
In the latter part of the novel, there are strains of Animal Farm.
At first, I couldn’t get into MaddAddam. I wasn’t fond of the ‘storytelling’ form that it was taking, framed by a very thin plot. However, as it develops into a story about Zeb, it becomes much more interesting although there is no real crescendo – though there are some very high and significant ends of chapters towards the end.
I read both of the previous novels a few years ago, and although there is a very extensive ‘the story so far’ at the beginning, and although Atwood provides lots of catch-up details throughout MaddAddam, I couldn’t help wishing that I’d read the three novels in order quite quickly one after the other.
At the end, the MaddAddamite left me sorry to say goodbye to some of my favourite Gardeners. It also left me craving to go and read, and re-read more of Atwood’s fiction. So, I did.
Publication details: Bloomsbury, 2013, London, hardbackThis copy: mine and signed!