Review: The Maddaddam Trilogy

After several weeks of compulsive reading, I just finished the Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy. Few series are engrossing enough to compel me to read all of them in succession, but this one joins The Warlord Chronicles and The Hunger Games trilogies on my short list of exceptions.  Even if dystopian fiction isn’t your thing, it’s worth reading these novels as exemplars of story craft. Atwood’s manipulation of narratives, weaving seemingly unrelated patterns that turn into a single tapestry of events, is  masterful. I felt the story lost momentum in the final book and the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but overall I rate the series excellent.

The first novel, Oryx and Crake, begins near the end. Once an amiable playboy in a society dominated by genetic engineering, Jimmy “Snowman” now wonders if he’s the only human alive after a plague wipes out humanity. As he plays de facto prophet for the gene-spliced humanoids who have unwittingly inherited the Earth, Jimmy remembers his brilliant friend Crake, the mysterious woman called Oryx they both loved, and the roles all three of them played in the downfall of civilization. It’s a love story and a eulogy, bound with eerie threads of warning. The novel can stand on its own, but it’s worth diving right into the sequel.

Year of the Flood expands on past events like a fractal. Two new characters give their perspectives, which weave into Jimmy’s narrative.  Atwood’s intelligent prose contrasts beautifully with the corrupt world she portrays (she is one of the only authors who routinely introduces me to new words; for nerdy me, it makes reading her books a vocabulary treasure hunt). I found this book less gripping than the first, but the parallel perspectives intrigued me.

The final novel merges the storylines from the previous two and reveals the final details of the plague’s origin. I confess I got a bit impatient reading Maddaddam. Somehow it lacked the magic of its predecessors. Perhaps too much of the mystery had been revealed; parts of it seemed redundant. Or maybe Atwood’s aftermath just wasn’t as interesting as how it came to be. The themes flirted with biological determinism, which I found surprising from the author of The Handmaid’s Tale. But if you read the first two books, you’ll want to hear the end of the story.

Atwood’s world-on-the-brink is a caricature of our own. Frivolous use of science, corporate power and greed, increasing gaps between the wealthy and the poor, and irresponsible use of the planet all pave the way for apocalypse. I recommend reading it, and soon: this summer HBO announced plans to turn the books into a miniseries. Given their excellent dramatization of Game of Thrones (a series that lost momentum much more drastically than Maddaddam, but that’s another rant) I can’t wait to see how they bring Jimmy Snowman’s dying world to life.

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