by Margaret Atwood
‘…. [A]nyone who liked smelling daisies, and having daisies to smell, and eating mercury-free fish, and who objected to giving birth to three-eyed infants via the toxic sludge in their drinking water was a demon-possessed Satanic minion of darkness, hell-bent on sabotaging the American Way and God’s Holy Oil, which were one and the same.’
WARNING: If you are someone who is offended by the proliferation in literature of four-letter words beginning with f-, s- and c-, this book is most definitely not for you. In fact, it’s probably better that you don’t read on because, in order to review it, it’s hardly possible to avoid including one or two of said words!
As it says in the blurb on the book’s back cover, Welcome to the outrageous imagination of Margaret Atwood. In her crazy, dystopian, yet mostly hilarious world, much of humanity has been wiped out by a pandemic. The survivors fall into five main groups:
The Crakers are genetically modified “humans” of various colours but having the common feature that certain parts turn blue at the mating season. They don’t wear clothes, are naive, enjoy purring and singing and like stories. They were created by Crake, whom they now worship as a god.
The God’s Gardeners are unmodified humans, members of a pseudo-religious cult founded by Adam One. They love nature, hate violence and modern technology, and are given to growing vegetables and keeping bees on the roofs of derelict houses.
The Painballers are vile and murderous human beings who rape and kill for fun, doing both in the most revolting ways. Not many Painballers have survived the plague but they have nasty weapons, so you don’t need many to cause havoc. They are definitely the bad guys!
The Maddaddamites – the main focus of this novel – are as near to normal as you’re going to get in a post-pandemic world. Their group includes former God’s Gardeners and just about everyone else who isn’t either a Craker or a Painballer. The Maddaddamites wear old bed-sheets for clothing but are otherwise reasonably sane.
There are several kinds of Animals in the novel too, the chief ones being the Pigoons – pigs spliced with human DNA which gives them reasoning abilities – and Mo’Hairs – sheep with human hair instead of fleece.
Maddaddam is the third novel in a trilogy set in this post-apocalyptic world. The first two are Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. but if you haven’t read them don’t worry. Ms Atwood kindly summarises the earlier stories for us at the start of Book Three.
‘Romance among the chronologically challenged is giggle fodder. For the youthful, lovelorn and wrinkly don’t blend …’
The main characters of Maddaddam are Toby and Zeb, respectively female and male, middle-aged lovers, who are living with their fellow survivors in a compound, and sharing it with a group of Crakers, including Blackbeard and Abraham Lincoln. Snowman-the-Jimmy, a sort of prophet of Crake (who has passed on to the Happy Eternities), is in a coma and Toby takes on his role as chief storyteller. Most of her story is about Zeb, his ingenious brother Adam, his corrupt father Rev, founder of the Church of PetrOleum, and about how she and Zeb came to meet.
'Who killed Fenella? A really evil fella. Hit her on the head, Gave her quite a whack. Everything went black, Now she's fuckin' dead.'
In fact, Fenella is Adam’s mother. She’s buried under the rock garden and when Zeb and Adam expose their father as the murderer they have to go on the run. Adam devises all sorts of clever schemes to avoid discovery, and his ingenuity coupled with Zeb’s hacking skills enable the brothers to remain a few steps ahead of their vengeful father.
‘ “….Oh fuck.” Jimmy lies back, closes his eyes. “Oh fuck.” “Who is this Fuck?” says Abraham Lincoln. “Why is he talking to this Fuck? This is not the name of anyone here.” ‘
As I hinted at the start, in addition to zany antics and improbable characters, there is a lot of “swearing” in this book. I confess I don’t usually like too much in a novel; after all, expletives are often a sign of inadequate language skills. However, such is Margaret Atwood’s genius as a wordsmith and so highly developed are her language skills that you can bet your life that in her hands fuck (with or without the capital letter) will take on a whole new identity and literary meaning.
When their compound is threatened by the surviving Painballers, Toby, Zeb and the Maddaddamites form an alliance with the Pigoons. They lead their followers to the AnooYoo Spa, where Toby once worked – and thence to the Egg for a final confrontation and a gruesome discovery.
By now, three women have become pregnant, and the question is, who are the fathers? Are the children to be part Craker, part Painballer or perhaps even a bit of both?
And if any of this sounds confusing, irreverent, outrageous, even insane, it is! It’s true there are some sweet moments – some nasty moments too – but most of the book is incredibly funny.
I loved it!
‘Of course, once you elected to enter Painball, the alternative to winning was death. That was why it was so much fun to watch.’