Margaret Atwood is arguably today’s preeminent author of speculative fiction. As her bestselling postapocalyptic trilogy draws to a dramatic close with the novel MaddAddam, readers have a great opportunity to enjoy the complete work. Especially if you’re used to “contemporary” fiction, at first glance, it may not seem like your typical book-club fare, but don’t let the futuristic setting deter you—you’ll discover a lot to talk about here. Here are three reasons you should consider the MaddAddam trilogy for your reading group.
In case you’re not up to the full trilogy, or you’ve already read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood and need a quick refresher before you jump into MaddAddam, there’s a short recap of the story so far in a supplementary Scribd excerpt at the end of this post.
1. MaddAddam is relevant. All of the science-fiction elements in the world of these novels are grounded in current scientific theory. From gene splicing to the threat of global warming to the corporate takeover of the Internet, Atwood explores a multitude of issues that loom large for our society today. Readers can talk about the ethics and dangers of creating the “pigoons,” transgenic pigs bred especially to provide organs for human transplants; the irony of feeding starving polar bears our population’s leftovers in an attempt to help them adapt to the melting ice, which has prevented them from hunting seals; or the possibility of giant pharmaceutical companies manufacturing diseases in order to create a market for new drugs.
Do you see parallels between the events of MaddAddam and recent events or newspaper headlines? Are the dangers of technology exaggerated or could they really be our future? These are just a few of the questions that you and your reading group can use as a starting point for discussion.
2. It’s relatable. Atwood’s characters share universal hopes and struggles, and a deep-seated need for connection that will powerfully resonate with readers. In Oryx and Crake, plague survivor Jimmy mourns his best friend, Crake, and the love of his life, Oryx. The heroines of The Year of the Flood, Toby and Ren, stick together through thick and thin to survive. The very human ties that bind the trilogy’s characters—love, friendship, and loyalty—sustain them through the most difficult times, and bring up themes that we can all relate to.
In addition to portraying compelling personal relationships, Atwood weaves in philosophically weighty topics, such as the search for meaning and order in the universe. Crake bioengineers a race of quasi-humans and tries to rid them of what he considers pesky human flaws: sexual jealousy, greed, and religious faith. He would be horrified to know that his “Crakers” would tirelessly seek ways to explain the world around them, and, in the process, develop a religion—with Crake as their deity. Does that mean that the desire for belief is innate within us?
3. It’s classic Margaret Atwood. An amalgam of thrilling storytelling, adventure, humor, romance, all informed by a dazzlingly inventive imagination, the MaddAddam trilogy is an exquisite read from an acclaimed fiction master. The unique narrative mode alone is worthy of a lengthy discussion. Each novel is told from a different perspective, creating a panoramic—and sometimes opposing—view of the world. The Year of the Flood covers the same time period as Oryx and Crake but is set in the “pleeblands”—areas outside of the gated science compounds where the rest of society lives. The second novel fills narrative blanks and paints the characters of the first in a different light. Who tells the story is as important as the story itself.
Then, in MaddAddam, Atwood employs a narrative technique that brings attention to the workings of storytelling itself. As the character Toby explains their origins to the ever-curious Crakers, readers witness how her tall tales cohere into a luminous oral history that sets down humanity’s past—in a way that reimagines it completely. How do you think narrative perspective affects the story? Do you relate better to a particular narrative?
Margaret Atwood brilliantly summarizes the paradoxes of storytelling in the pages of MaddAddam: “There’s a story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too” [p. 56].
(If you have trouble viewing the excerpt below, please click here to view it on the Scribd website.)