Growing up in the Canadian school system, Margaret Atwood was a name that was thrown around a lot. Her books never really appealed to me however and I made it though high school without having to read any. It wasn’t until a summer in university that I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale and absolutely devoured it. I decided to try another one of Atwood’s dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake and while I did not love it as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, I decided to stick with the series and read the other two books. I was not disappointed as, for me, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam were spellbinding.
The trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States with flashbacks to they way things were before the breakout of an epidemic that wiped out a majority of the population. In Oryx and Crake, you meet Crake and Jimmy, childhood friends who grew up together in a government compound where pharmaceuticals were manufactured. The society that the two boys grow up in is a morally depraved one where the government manufactures a drug for everything and popular forms of entertainment include watching public executions and various lewd sexual acts. Crake as the more gifted of the two creates his own “species” of humans called “Crakers” who were devoid of all the flaws he saw in his own species. You find out (Spoiler) that Crake is responsible for the epidemic released, but he left Jimmy alive to watch over the Crakers. The story is told alternating between Jimmy’s point of view in the present post-apocalyptic work, and a third person during flashbacks to Jimmy and Crake growing up. This wasn’t my favourite as I didn’t like either character and found them both to be annoying.
The Year of the Flood however was more interesting as it parallels the events of Oryx and Crake but takes place in the “Pleeblands” the area outside of government-run compounds and follows two characters, Toby and Ren and how they survived “The Flood.” This novel was more interesting as it brought in elements of religion with the “God’s Gardeners,” and the characters were more likeable with more interesting backstories. The third instalment, Maddaddam picks up where The Year of the Flood leaves off, but fell short of my expectations.
While the trilogy is full of hokey language (pigoons: a pig-racoon genetic hybrid; bimplants: breast implants, etc) Atwood paints a vision of the future that is entirely possible. Her world in Maddaddam differs drastically from her world in A Handmaid’s Tale. In the latter novel, the world is run my puritanical evangelists while in her more recent work drug companies and big businesses run the world. Think of it as a much more sobering version of Idiocracy (a great and fairly underrated movie). Juxtaposing the two books also says a great deal about Atwood’s activism and her response to the times. A Handmaid’s Tale was published in the late 1980’s when Evangelical Christianity was seeing a rebirth in North America. Now with Maddaddam Atwood is responding to current trends in entertainment, as well as the health and food industries. It is an entertaining read but underneath a very thought provoking one. Atwood’s view of the future is a realistic one, which is a very terrifying thing indeed.