Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian Novel
Pages: 448 (hardcover)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
Lady Esbe’s Score:
“In this second book of the MaddAddam trilogy, the long-feared waterless flood has occurred, altering Earth as we know it and obliterating most human life. Among the survivors are Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, who is barricaded inside a luxurious spa. Amid shadowy, corrupt ruling powers and new, gene-spliced life forms, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move, but they can’t stay locked away.”
Lady Esbe’s Review
After last month’s selection Oryx and Crake, the material and characters were so disturbing, annoying and crazy, I didn’t think I could stomach the second in the series. To my pleasant surprise, Snowman, Crake and Oryx were nowhere to be found in most of the book. However, Atwood does a great job in tying characters from the previous book and giving them context to the characters and events in this novel. This time around we focus on Ren/Brenda and Toby.
Starting with Ren/Brenda because she appears in the first novel as Jimmy’s high school girlfriend that passive aggressively writes in her journal for him to “Stay out”. I am a bit ambivalent about her because on some level she doesn’t grow beyond being a child, mentally/emotionally. We first encounter her in this novel in isolation at the gentleman’s club Scales and Tails. However, we are treated to her musings in flashbacks to her youth. We spend the most time with her as a member of God’s Gardeners. We are barely introduced to the group in the first novel. They are one of the environmentally conscientious groups that resides outside of the compounds. I felt horrible for Ren/Brenda initially because her mother pulled a Jimmy’s mom act. In an effort to be free of the corporations, or more to the point, her boring husband, Lucerne left the compound with Ren/Brenda in tow. Now, the child loved her father and the father loved her. So why, other than to be spiteful, did the woman bring her child to shack up with one of the alleged Gardeners? However, Ren/Brenda does her best to fit in and adapts to her situation.
According to Adam One, the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees, then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology, from simple signals into complex grammar, and thus into humanity; and thus into humanity; from firelessness into fire, and then into weaponry,; and from seasonal mating into an incessant sexual twitching. Then they fell from a joyous life in the moment into the anxious contemplation of the vanished past and the distant future.
Unfortunately, Ren/Brenda appears to be stuck in a pubescent state most of the novel by her behavior. While with the Gardeners, she found a little friend that she attaches to and becomes like peas in pod with Amanda, who truly the adventurer. She scorns a fellow Gardener child/ Bernice (yeah, that Bernice that burned Jimmy’s sandals in college) in favor of her new friend. I don’t truly blame her for this, as Bernice is a pill, even at the young age. Ren/Brenda finds herself back in the compound and again flailing at the whim of Lucerne. Yet, she adapts, albeit, poorly to the high school situation as best she can with the help of Jimmy and their mutual friend (who’s name I can’t recall and won’t look for). However, I feel that her time with the Gardeners has damaged her in a way that only a cult could. On some level, she’s trying to be in keeping with their doctrines, but her behaviors into her adulthood is rather childish. Her thought processes had me rolling my eyes throughout, even while I pitied her in her pining for Jimmy and the antics of the ridiculous Lucerne. I worried for her after the “waterless flood”, but ultimately, I could somewhat appreciate the descent into madness (yes, it appears to happen to anyone isolated in this series). However, her juvenile behavior once relieved of this isolation made me want to choke her.
I think Atwood was highlighting the resilience of people in the face of great adversity throughout the novel. In my opinion, the character that epitomizes this is Toby. Toby is also a reluctant member of the Gardeners once she is liberated from her sex slave situation at Secret Burger. Toby had a promising life. However, her life is turned topsy turvy when her mother falls ill/passes away and her father loses his will to live as well. She took matters into her own hands by entering the plebe lands to escape the debt and pain of her former life. Unfortunately, that put her in the unseemly situation at Secret Burger and the need to be saved, thanks to Rebecca. While Toby does not buy into all of the Gardener edicts, she is very much willing to adapt to survive. However, she never loses her fierceness. She questions her sanity, as one would when hearing odd singing and blue men/women marching behind a random guy in a sheet, sunglasses and baseball cap.
We shouldn’t have been so scornful; we should have had compassion. But compassion takes work, and we were young.
While most of the novel is devoted to these to characters, we get a better insight to the Gardeners and their willingness, to play dirty. They do not wish to cause harm to the earth, animals and the like. They do not believe in waste, and are not above using inherently “non”-Gardener materials (plastic, etc) as long as it is being recycled for good. However, much like any cult, Adam One has pronounced all these edicts that aren’t necessarily contrary until you get a peek behind the curtain. As the novel goes on, the snippets of his sermons devolve into ramblings that make no sense with little glimmers of ah-ha moment’s. Again, the them of isolation wreaks havoc on the mind. Toby takes a look behind the curtain reluctantly and discovers that there is hypocrisy amongst the head of the Gardeners and while she doesn’t reveal what she knows, she’s still a bit ambivalent.
The Gardeners were like that: they’d tell you to do something and then prohibit the easiest way to do it.
While Toby is rock solid throughout the novel for me. I also quite enjoyed Zeb. Zeb is the former corporate insider at the compounds, but we aren’t quite sure how. I imagine that he was CorpseCorps. His guerilla warfare tactics and ability to blend in and out in the plebe lands along with the compounds puts me in the mind of a deep cover operative who probably participated in espionage on the light end and coupes on the other. Hey, hey may have been CIA, but he is great. I think he puts up with Lucerne until he can’t. He also takes some risks for the group, the motivation may be revenge against the Corps or just a sense of adventure. However, I do not doubt his concern for the people he call his family. Needless to say, Zeb’s views on violence and the need of being able to be apart of the world they are trying to affect is in direct contradiction to the practices of the Gardeners and there is no wonder there is a schism.
We do see Jimmy/Snowman, Glenn/Crake and Oryx again in the novel. However, we see them through the eyes of the characters that are present in this book. Initially, I wasn’t so put off by Glenn/Crake. He seemed like a kid who wanted to help and try to understand the philosophy of the Gardeners. However, by the end of it, I was still miffed with him. Oryx was purely periphery. We have new villains and I believe they are necessary to push the story forward and for the reader to understand how truly screwed up the world is in and out of the compounds.
I enjoyed this one much better than the first novel. Atwood does a tremendous job with continuity between the first and second novel. I hope to see the same continuity in the final novel. Yes, I will read that one too.
Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.