29 September 2013

Atwood's Hat-trick


I am so glad I went back and reread Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood before I sunk my teeth into MaddAddam. I think each of them can be enjoyed on their own, but I got so much out of reading all three of these novels back-to-back. It was wonderful to go back and re-experience the first two. I loved them both the first time, but I got so much more out of them the second time around. Being able to finish one and pick up the next immediately was the best kind of binge reading.

For those of you who think you wouldn't like this kind of speculative, dystopian future, you need to summon all of your will and give them a try. Atwood is such a gifted writer that you soon forget about the novelty of the situation, the characters, and the animals (sheep that grow human hair for one) and just get swept up in the story.

I am not going to try and give a synopsis. Not only am I never very good at that, but in this case I know it would be next to impossible. Atwood provides the right amount of character development and description to make her world feel three dimensional, but she also keeps the plot chugging along in a way that makes it hard to put down at night. Indeed I read all three of the books over the course of five days. MaddAddam doesn't necessarily tie everything up with a bow, but it does resolve enough to make it seem like a good place to stop.

I also won't try and describe the world Atwood creates in these three books, but a few things in MaddAddam I found particularly interesting. For instance I love the idea of a creature that "purrs" over people when they are ill. It sounds so comforting--and unlike, hmm religious purring--so non-judgmental. I also got a chuckle out of Toby's (and eventually Blackbeard's) requests to the Crakers to stop singing. But more than anything I really loved the Pigoons in this book. I wish I could say more about the Pigoons--just think really smart pigs--but I don't want to give anything away.

It has been about four days since I left the post-plague, climate changed, deserted planet Earth of MaddAddam but I find myself thinking about it a lot. Not the connection between current human activity and the possibility of Atwood's dystopia coming true, but rather the characters, human and non-human. I really kind of enjoyed hanging out with them.

Photo credit: Canadian Press / Rex Features
One thing about the whole trilogy that gave me pause--and this isn't really a criticism, more an item for discussion--was the portrayal of gender roles and the absence of people of color and gays. Set in some near future period I felt like gender roles were a bit retrograde. I think that may have been Atwood's point in many cases, but I wonder. It is possible as well that any number of characters could have had undescribed brown skin, but since Atwood does describe someone as Black in MaddAddam, it kind of makes one assume that everyone else is presumed white. And gays were either non-existent or "gay" was referred to in a way that felt very 20th century.

Quibbles. Only quibbles. Go read these books. (And I would say read them in order. Go back and start with Oryx & Crake. In many ways I think it is the best of these three brilliant books.)

Here is what I thought of The Year of the Flood when I first read it back in 2009. In skimming it myself, I notice I made a similar comment about gender roles back then.

As for Oryx & Crake, I wasn't book blogging when I finished reading it, so I have no review to link to.


  1. I really need to find time to read this. Soon.

    I remember thinking the same thing about the gender roles and the absence of different race/LGBT characters, but knowing Atwood is conscious of these things, I gave her a pass. I'd be interested to know why she chose to leave certain groups of people out, though.

  2. While I'm not a fan of this series I series I do recommend reading an entire series at once. I know what you mean about enjoying spending so much time with a set of characters you enjoy.

    But I have to say your quibble is really much, much more than a gain quibble. I thought science fiction had come much further than that. I think you're right to bring it up and that ms. Atwood should be more than a bit embarrassed over this.

  3. Heather and James: I agree, it isn't really a small thing. And I think for those who really deal in SciFi and Speculative Fiction, it shows limitation. But I consider it to be a quibble because I liked the books too much for it to have much impact on my enjoyment.

  4. I had read the previous 2 books but did not revisit them before picking up MaddAddam. I was so glad the copy I had had a synopses of the other 2 books, but even reading that I felt like my eyes were crossing it was so jargonny! I wound up just diving in and hoping for the best, and I think that overall that worked out. Thought MaddAddam was a fine conclusion to the trilogy, but personally, I think Year of the Flood was the strongest and most nuanced of the three.

  5. Good to know you got a lot of reading all three in a row. I read Oryx & Crake when it came out but didn't read the second one. Recently I got the new one for my birthday and have been debating whether to read it now or read the first two before getting stuck in so I think I will wait till I have time to read them all.

    It is curious that Atwood doesn't use the opportunity to explore gender, race and sexuality by not having a very diverse cast and it'd be interesting to hear how she'd respond to that question. I'll remember that for next time I see her read.

  6. I'm a huge fan of much of of Atwood's earlier work - Lady Oracle, The Edible Woman, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, as well as her short stories and poetry, but I can't get into Oryx and Crake at all. I've tried several times, and each time I give up, because I don't enjoy it. I didn't like The Handmaid's Tale either.

  7. I got stuck on Oryx and Crake too, and I don't like The Handmaid's Tale, though I admire it as a piece of writing. Actually, I felt much the same about Alias Grace, come to think of it. I'll give O&C another go...I once ruined a Canadian friend's dinner by telling him that the slightly tough duck was pigoon. He shrieked, and abandoned it!

  8. I'd forgotten about Alias Grace... didn't lie that either! I wonder if there is an author where I like every single thing they've written.

  9. Ok you've just convinced me to reread the first 2 before starting the third. I've just reread my blog reviews of the first two. I gushed so much about Oryx and Crake but was disappointed with The Year of the Flood. Maybe a reread will change my opinion of book 2.

  10. Steph: I definitely think that even with the jargon, Atwood is good at letting the reader in.

    Eric: Even if you don't go back to O&C, I would read The Year of the Flood before moving on to MaddAddam.

    Geranium Cat: The pigoons play a big part in the latest one. Really hard to eat one after reading it.

    Christine: It sounds like you don't like her speculative children. Although I don't know what to say about Alias. I just found it boring.

    Mrs. B: If you liked O&C then I think going back will be a joy and really make the final one come to life.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.