Before I begin this review, let me address my young adult friends for a minute. A few years ago you read The Hunger Games and loved it. I enjoyed the trilogy too, even though the very end was a bit disappointing. Then you went looking for more dystopia so you moved on to Divergent. I am reading those books right now. Soon you’ll be wanting to move on to the next big thing. How about you move on to something a bit more grown-up?
Margaret Atwood first did this whole dystopian thing while most fans of Divergent and The Hunger Games were in diapers, if not even born yet at all. Her book The Handmaid’s Tale was chilling and fantastic. More recently, Atwood has published her own dystopian trilogy (I use the word dystopia but I believe she prefers “speculative fiction”) : Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam.
I’ll say it again – if you want to move on from “young adult” dystopia to mature, adult stories, then these are the books you need to read.
Oryx and Crake tells the story of a world in our not-too-distant future, a world filled with genetically modified animals and other scientific creations that (supposedly) make our life better. It is a world the reader can imagine living in. The protagonist of the book, Jimmy, grows up in this world. Right from the start we know something went wrong though, as Jimmy tells his story through flashbacks. And the “present day” from which he tells the flashbacks has him living in the woods near a beach where he may be the only human left on the planet. There are other intelligent creatures though, as near him lives a new human-ish creature known as the “Crakers” because they were created by Crake. This book is Jimmy’s telling of his friendship with Crake, his infatuation with Oryx, and how the world as we know it became that future dysopian world so popular in much recent fiction.
But there are no factions or battles to the death here. There is simply a wasteland filled with pigs made intelligent by possessing human brain tissue, other animals created in labs and decaying buildings of a once great civilization. The story here is all the more chilling because it is so believable, we can imagine this world (or at least, where the story starts) as coming to be.
The second book, The Year of the Flood, goes over much the same ground as the first book, but from the perspective of two other characters, Ren and Toby. In the initial book we see the world from the perspective of Jimmy and Crake, both of whom live at or near the top of society. Ren and Toby live on the fringes of the same society. This book is frustrating and a bit confusing at times as now there are two characters living in the present dystopia and telling stories through flashback whereas in the first book it was just Jimmy. It is also builds on religious themes just touched on in the first book as it delves deeply into the community named “God’s Gardeners.” In a world where everything is manufactured in a lab and modified and enhanced, groups such as the Gardeners rise up to go back to a simpler day.
By the end of book two we meet up with Jimmy and the end of book one and the story begins to move forward. That brings us to book three, MaddAddam, where Toby remains central along with Zeb, a character we saw a lot of in book two. Again there are many flashbacks as we get a lot of Zeb’s backstory which fills in more of the story of Crake and the God’s Gardeners. We also get a lot more speculation on what it looks like when a religion is created, as the Crakers continually ask to learn more about their maker, the great Crake, and through the stories told them by Jimmy and Toby we see a whole mythology grow. I’m not sure if I found the conclusion to the book satisfying and it left many questions unanswered, but it is hopeful and memorable.
These books are highly recommended both as gripping stories and as provoking thought on religion.
Oryx and Crake – 4/5 stars
The Year of the Flood – 3.5/5 stars
Maddaddam – 4/5 stars