Mad about ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy

As a whole, Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam Trilogy” is brilliant. The third installment, however, turned out to be my least favorite of the three books.

Because there is a gap of a few years between each book – “Oryx and Crake” was published in 2004, “The Year of the Flood” in 2009, and “Maddaddam” this year – I strongly recommend re-reading the first two books before digging into the third one (based on my mistake of not doing so).

A lot of book reviews talk about character development, but few discuss the difficulty in creating a world.

Atwood’s post-apocalyptic planet is carefully and expertly drawn, and is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the “Maddaddam” trilogy.

“Maddaddam” starts immediately where “The Year of the Flood” left off – at a total cliff-hanger – but Atwood slows the pace of the story and then begins a series of flashbacks that take up the majority of the book.

I think a linear story over the course of three books would have worked better, and it takes a long time for the story to begin moving forward … but once the action picked up, I found myself once again absorbed in the world of Oryx and Crake.

While at first I didn’t find the character of Zeb (a Maddaddamite best described as “the strong, silent type” and a minor character in the first two novels) very interesting, I liked the way Atwood used the telling of his story and background to shed light on the evolution of characters who play a major role in the trilogy, such as Oryx, Crake, Adam One and Eve One.

After introducing characters who are fully evolved with very distinct personalities, quirks and issues of all kinds, Atwood does a great job of stepping back and showing how they got there … and making the reader understand (and worry) that this could happen to anyone, even you.

Atwood also introduces some very thought-provoking moral dilemmas through the clash between the Maddaddamites (the few plague survivors) and the Crakers – a group of bioengineered species whose purpose was to take over once humanity was wiped out as part of Crake’s great plan. Despite their recent introduction to the planet, the Crakers are treated like an indigenous people whose way of life must not be disturbed. Maddaddamite Toby becomes their caretaker and does her best to keep their religion – and the worship of Crake as a god – intact despite the corrupting influence of her fellow Maddaddamites. The Crakers’ mating rituals in particular come into question as they are animalistic and don’t require consent. Male Crakers have to be taught not to help themselves to the Maddaddamite women.

The struggle the Maddaddamites face in dealing with this issue reminded me of the real-life controversy over the tradition of female genital mutilation, predominately practiced in Africa, and the role (if any) of the western world in protecting women from this “rite of passage.”

While the last book of this trilogy ultimately provokes even more questions than the first two, it also provides some answers regarding the origins of the new world that manage to wrap things up in a mostly satisfying way. Atwood is a master of both the novel and the sci-fi genre, so a dystopian trilogy that goes further than “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the perfect outlet for her talents. Now that “Maddaddam” is complete, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.