Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond)
The world has been mostly wiped out by a virus released by Crake, who thinks he’s helping save the earth with a cleansing flood. The survivors who are left are some of the scientists who worked with him, some people who were following a crunchy granola earth-centric cult known as God’s Gardeners, and Painballers–dangerous drug addicts who survived a gladiator-style fighting ring. There’s also the Crakers. Genetically engineered by Crake and the scientists, they’re a new version of humans who are herbivorous and naturally poly. They also are only attracted to sex when the women are in heat and visibly blue, thus preventing sexual violence amongst themselves. The God’s Gardeners, scientists, and Crakers comes together to try to survive in this world and defend themselves from the painballers. Toby, a God’s Gardener, ends up leading and educating the Crakers. She also rediscovers Zeb, the God’s Gardener leader’s brother who she previously had a crush on. Zeb tells her the story of how his brother, Adam, came to be mad.
I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a set of two companion novels, not a trilogy. So when this book was released, I was surprised and excited. The prior two books left the reader hanging, not knowing what really happened after the flood, and I was eager to find out what did happen. I wish this book had lived up to the creativity and excitement of the second one, The Year of the Flood.
At first it appears the sole narrator of the book will be Toby, the woman from The Year of the Flood who flees to God’s Gardeners to escape her dangerous stalker and slowly grows in strength. Slowly, though, she begins to share narration with Zeb, who tells her his and Adam’s background stories. Interspersed in this is Toby’s evening bedtime stories to the Crakers, who insist upon this and treat it with respect and ritual. Eventually, one of the Crakers tells some of the evening stories. The format isn’t bad, although it’s odd that when Zeb is telling his story to Toby, she’s talking about him telling the story to her in the third person. So the book will say “Zeb remembered” or “Zeb thought,” instead of just having Zeb take over the narration of the story. It felt especially odd since the audiobook had the narrator change from the female voice of Toby to the male voice of Zeb who proceeded to refer to himself in the third person. Similarly, although the bedtime stories to the Crakers were well-written, easily elucidating a bedtime story and letting the reader imagine the questions and comments from the Crakers that we don’t actually hear, a lot of the stories didn’t feel as if they added much to the book. They felt a bit like page-fillers. I get it that Atwood is trying to show where religion comes from (blind trust in a fallible person), but it felt a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary to me.
Toby’s character progression from a strong, creative, firecracker of a woman to someone who second-guesses herself, bemoans her inability to properly defend people, and moons after a man obsessively was rather jarring and disappointing. I’m all for Toby having a love life, and I think her having one as an older woman is something we don’t see enough in literature. But I don’t feel like her excessive pining and worrying over it was totally within character. Similarly, she seems to lose all ability to trust in herself and her capability in defending herself and others in bizarre situations. The one thing that did feel within her character was her taking the Crakers under her wing. These flaws in the characterization of Toby are kind of a big deal since she’s the only female narrator out of three narrators, and since she was such an amazing main character in The Year of the Flood. She deserves to have more of the story and more presence of personality than she gets.
That said, Zeb’s backstory is interesting and lends a lot of light to some of the mysteries from the previous two books. In some ways they were the best parts of the book, since we get to revisit the incredible pre-flood world Atwood created.
In comparison, the post-flood world is dull and lacks creativity. It’s essentially a bunch of survivors living in a jungle with some genetically engineered humans. The only extra or special thing added into this basic formula is the Crakers, and they are not that engaging or interesting. They’re mostly just a little creepy and off-putting.
The main conflict of the plot is rather predictable, although the ending is a bit of a surprise. The end of Toby’s story moved me the most, and that’s not a surprise since she is by far my favorite character in the series. The end of the book makes it clear that this is really more about the Crakers and the basis of their society, which I think explains my lukewarm feelings about the book.
The audiobook narrators all did a lovely job emoting the various characters they played. The choice of having a male narrator speak for Zeb’s story even though Zeb isn’t actually speaking was a bit odd, though.
Overall, those who enjoyed The Year of the Flood the most of the first two books will be a bit disappointed in Toby’s characterization and probably find the post-flood world a bit dull, although they will still enjoy seeing the end of Toby’s story. Those who preferred Oryx and Crake and have a liking of or interest in the Crakers will likely enjoy this finale to the series the most.
3 out of 5 stars