Tuesday 15 November 2016


Monkey insisted I read 'Maddaddam' (that I have only just realised is a palindrome) by Margaret Atwood so she could talk about it with me. She has read the trilogy in fairly quick succession whereas it is five years since I read 'The Year of the Flood' and my memory of it was a bit hazy. Where Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake are set roughly simultaneously 'Maddaddam' follows on pretty much immediately where Year of the Flood leaves off with Toby and Zeb and some of the Gardeners and Maddaddamites trying to build a new community with the Crakers while being threatened variously by some crazed Painballers and the quasi intelligent Pigoons. I love what Margaret Atwood is trying to achieve with this series of books, to imagine the end of civilization and what it would take to start again. The Crakers are Crake's created race of people, supposedly with none of the nasty urges that made human beings such a disaster, but what is really interesting is that despite his best interests the Crakers have, in trying to understand the world better, have build for themselves a mythology around Crake and Orxy as their creators. 

Within this book, alongside the ongoing struggle for survival, what we learn is the backstory of Zeb and Adam, who might, or might not be brothers. Zeb relates to Toby and she then becomes the story teller to the Crakers, since Snowman-the-Jimmy is indisposed. So we get the sad tale of their crappy childhood and escape into the underworld and gradually emergence with the support of various agents of resistance. 
Here is a description of the Rev, their father, and it sounds freakily familiar:

"The Rev had his very own cult. That was the way to go in those days if you wanted to coin the megabucks and you had a facility for ranting and bullying, plus golden-tongues whip'em-up preaching, and you lacked some other grey-area but highly marketable skills, such a derivative trading. Tell people what they want to hear, call yourself a religion, put the squeeze on for contributions, run your own media outlets and use them for robocalls and slick online campaigns, befriend or threaten politicians, evade taxes. You had to give the guy some credit. He was twisted as a pretzel, he was a tinfoil-halo shit-nosed frogstomping king rat asshole, but he wasn't stupid.
As witness his success. By the time Zeb came along, the Rev had a megachurch, all glass slabbery and pretend oak pews and faux granite, out on the rolling plains. The church of PetrOleum, affiliated with the somewhat more mainstream Petrobaptists. They were riding high for a while, about the time accessible oil became scarce and the price shot up and desperation among the pleebs set in. A lot of top Corps guys would turn up at the church as guest speakers. They'd thank the Almighty for blessing the world with fumes and toxins, cast their eyes upwards as if gasoline came from heaven, look pious as hell." (p.136-7)

The new community, and especially Zeb, somehow keep hoping for the return of Adam, he seemed to be the person with ideas about what should happen next. We just watch the people as they go about rebuilding, while dealing with the normal life things of eating, sleeping and falling in love. They do scavenging runs into the city to get supplies and keep a watch out for the Painballers. In a strange turn of events the Pigoons come to them for help and with the translation assistance of Blackbeard (one of the Craker children) they set up an ambush to deal with their mutual existential threat and reach a mutually beneficial agreement. But there remains the unexplained smoke on the horizon, does it mean there are other humans still out there.

Here Toby is, at the insistence of the Crakers, telling the story:

"The light if fading now, the moths are flying, dusky pink, dusky grey, dusky blue. The Crakers have gathered around Jimmy's hammock. This is where they want Toby to tell the story about Crake and how they came out of the Egg.
Snowman-Ht-Jimmy wants to listen to the story to, they say. Never mind that he's unconscious: they're convinced he can hear it.
They already know the story, but the important thing seems to be that Toby must tell it. She must make a show of eating the fish they've brought, charred on the outside and wrapped in leaves. She must put on Jimmy's ratty red baseball cap and his faceless watch and raise the watch to her hear. She must begin at the beginning, she must preside over the creation, she must lead them out of the Egg and shepherd them down to the seashore.
At the end, they want to hear about the two bad men, and the campfire in the forest, and the soup with the smelly bone in it: they're obsessed with that bone. Then she must tell about how they themselves untied the men, and how the two bad men ran away into the forest, and how they may come back at any time and do more bad things. That part makes them sad, but they insist on hearing it anyway.
Once Toby has made her way through the story, they urge her to tell it again, than again. They prompt, they interrupt, they fill in the parts she's missed. What they want from her is a seamless performance, as well as more information that she either knows or can invent. She's a poor substitute for Snowman-the-Jimmy, but they're doing what they can to polish her up." (p.59-60)

Margaret Atwood's world is wild and creative, it is like ours, at least in the sinister direction ours appears to be heading, though more extreme, with all these surreal creations, but at the same time she provokes you to think about what may become of the world, and if the Crakers are really an 'improvement' on human beings; if you could create a better species, what might it be like?

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read Margaret, but maybe I should give her a try, eh?


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