Book Review – MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam

MaddAddam is the third and final novel in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, following Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. It picks up exactly where the second novel left off, with Toby and Ren having recused Amanda from her captors, subduing them after Jimmy stepped in first. Though they initially have a handle of the situation, it all falls apart when the Crakers show up—the semi-humans created by Crake to inherit the Earth after the pandemic. Though everybody makes it out with their lives, the two dangerous men escape in the confusion. Needing to tend to Jimmy’s infected foot, Toby becomes a figure of much interest to the Crakers, and she quickly finds herself put into the role of storyteller in Jimmy’s stead. Ever on guard for the two men who still lurk somewhere nearby, the little colony of Toby and the MaddAddamites try to eke out a living in this post-apocalyptic world, while Toby probes Zeb for stories of his past.

As you might guess from the summary, in keeping with the previous books, this novel is divided between a narrative in the present and someone’s personal history before the pandemic. It is played around with a bit more this time, with the flashbacks and present day sharing a fairly equal amount of prominence in the story. The present is pretty much exclusively viewed from Toby’s perspective, whom I continue to find a compelling main character. I love the contrast between her more sagely presence in the community and the self-doubt and negative feelings that plague her internally.

Toby’s feelings for Zeb, carried over from the previous novel, finally start getting addressed and requited, but whether or not the relationship is serious becomes an understandable point of anxiety for her. I especially liked that, while her insecurities do come up between them, she focuses more on dealing with her own feelings and what she wants for herself. One particular point of contention that comes up between the two of them is never definitively clarified one way or another, but the characters are able to let go of hang-ups and see past it to what they really want, rather than dwell on it because of jealousy or doubts. This direction felt appropriate for the characters, whose roles as pillars of their small community would be undercut by such relatively petty drama.

Rather than submerging the reader completely in the past, the flashbacks are framed partly as a conversation between Toby and Zeb. It’s not written as him directly dictating the story to her, but the two often cut in with commentary, Toby either making a remark, Zeb explaining or giving better context for something, or the two of them dwelling a little on a point of interest. This all tied into the motif of storytelling traditions really well.

Zeb’s story itself was intriguing in its own way, fleshing him out more for us as Toby learns more about him. Unfortunately, it also felt like it was just filling in minor details left over from The Year of the Flood to give a bit of a clearer picture, which certainly wasn’t unwelcome, but didn’t really feel needed either. In this respect I do wish it had stood better on its own. The closer to the events of the second book the story got the more condensed it all became, giving what felt more like a summary of Zeb’s perspective on some things we already know, with only a few insights that really make it seem worth the investment of time.

The real heart of the story for me was found with the Crakers, who felt more like background details in the previous book. I do recall them being more important in Oryx and Crake, but it has been a long time since I read that first book, so I cannot say with confidence just how much focus they had. Their innocence as a group of people was a breath of fresh air compared to the bleakness of the second book, especially in how it can be both precious and vexing just how much they don’t understand certain things.

The ways Toby managed to teach them about the world before their creation were great, evoking the birth of a new mythology that felt alive and growing. At the same time, we learn that they’re not so ignorant or naïve as they appear; their sensory perception of the world is just very different from normal humans. The balance between then being empty vessels ready to receive knowledge and deep, insightful beings in their own right was balanced really well. The lives of the human survivors mattered to me, but I’m glad an ultimately more optimistic view for the future was focused upon through the Crakers.

Final Thoughts

With all said and done, I feel oddly about MaddAddam. I enjoyed reading it a lot, the storytelling and characterization were wonderful, but I keep finding myself taken aback by the fact that it’s nearly 400 pages long. On the one hand, this means it didn’t feel like a protracted read at all. On the other, it doesn’t really feel like a lot happened within all those pages either, and I wish there’d been more to it. I’m happy more story was dedicated to the Crakers, but it also feels like this book only exists because The Year of the Flood had a cliff-hanger ending. With the dour note the final pages end on for certain characters, too, I have wonder what exactly Atwood was going for. Nevertheless, I’ll not hold the final few pages against what was otherwise a great, if a little superfluous, conclusion to a fine trilogy.

My Rating: 4 out of 5

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