Bloomsbury £18.99

Review: MaddAddam, By Margaret Atwood

With this tense tale of pandemic, giant pigs, and survival, is the final part of Margaret Atwood's trilogy obliquely surveying her own legacy?

MaddAddam is the final part of a trilogy that began in 2003 with Oryx and Crake and continued six years later with The Year of the Flood. MaddAddam both completes the series and remixes its opening episodes, which is apt, as motifs of storytelling, splicing, origins and endings run throughout Margaret Atwood's new work.

Get money off this title at the Independent book store

The plot is rudimentary, but in its final stages tense and exciting. At the centre is a band of rag-tag survivors who have out-lasted a global pandemic sent to cleanse the planet of mankind once and for all. Atwood's misfits forage, cook, bicker, reminisce about decent coffee, have sex, hold secret crushes, and try desperately not to die. There are many ways this can be accomplished. There are monster pigs (part Homer, part Orwell) who rage whenever one of their number ends up in a bacon sandwich. Even worse are the "Painballers": rogue psychopaths who found superstardom through a sport that makes Rollerball look like crown green bowling.

After an entente cordiale with the hogs, the tribe declares war on the Painballers. The final conflict takes place, with ironic symmetry, at the Egg, the laboratory in which the Crakes were conceived. Atwood's characters come full circle, but whereas Book One was concerned with birth and rebirth, MaddAddam has a death-soaked sense of ending.

Atwood opens with a handy re-cap that parodies long-running TV series ("The story so far") and the chapter summaries of 18th-century fiction: "The story of the Egg, and of Oryx and Crake, and how they made People and Animals." This precis does more than make MaddAddam accessible to readers who are unaware of Oryx and Crake. It introduces Atwood's diverse acts of narration. MaddAddam's action and characters are presented and re-presented in a series of self-consciously dramatised storytelling sessions – with a teller and an audience – that marry the directness of oral traditions to Atwood's characteristically robust, but written prose.

The longest sections are told by our hero, Zeb, to our heroine, Toby. These accounts of his life and adventures become a kind of love story. Not that Zeb's subject is romance: he's keener on sex, his cult-leading father, his brother, Adam, and his life as a computer hacker. Instead, these intimate acts of confession and revelation help bring Zed and Toby together after years spent flirting too subtly for their own good.

At the end of each day, Toby recycles these tales, and others, for the Crakes. Her bedtime stories are part ritual (she must wear a battered Red Sox baseball cap, a broken wristwatch, and eat a fish) and part myth creation: a way to make a chaotic, violent and capricious world seem comprehensible – and even beautiful – for the gentle, child-like Crakes.

Told in simple prose, these sections are moving, but also very funny. Atwood is not always praised as a comic writer, but MaddAddam reveals a fondness for bad puns (Occam's razor becomes "Ock-ham" during a swinish encounter), off-beat one-liners ("I once had a conversation with my bra") and some inventive running gags. When Snowman-the-Jimmy yells "Fuck" in front of the baffled Crakes, an embarrassed Toby turns the curse-word into an abstract being, who is then absorbed into the Crake religion as a demi-god: "Oryx will be helping me," says a Crake called Blackbeard. "And Fuck. I have already called Fuck. He is flying to here, right now, you will see."

One senses Atwood pondering the joys, demands, and occasional burdens of her craft. While Toby is often inspired when explaining human folly, good and evil to the Crakes, she frets about the truth of her yarn spinning. Do her consoling myths explain life and death to the Crakes or mislead them about its grimmer reality? When Blackbeard finds his creators' skeletons, he howls: "Oryx and Crake must be beautiful! Like the stories! They cannot be a smelly bone!"

There are even moments when Toby tires of catering to the demands of her rabid audience. If Atwood is similarly weary, it doesn't show in her prose, which despite the occasional longueur yeasts itself up with the immediacy of improvised narration. This vitality seems acutely alert to its opposites – to finality and death, whether of her trilogy, her characters, the planet and one suspects her own life. "Is this what writing amounts to? The voice your own ghost would have, if it had a voice?" Toby asks at one point. Is Atwood surveying her legacy, literary and otherwise, out of the corner of her eye? Dedicated to her family, MaddAddam is an extraordinary achievement. The sort of loose, baggy novel at which Atwood has thrown everything except for the kitchen sink (there are no kitchens, or sinks, in Toby's world). It ends with a bravura meditation on the power, consolations and endurance of literature itself: "And I have done this so we will all know of her," Blackbeard writes of Toby, "and of how we came to be." 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.

 

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried