As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am a big fan of dystopian fantasy, so I have no idea as to why I have not read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy earlier.
I enjoyed these books so much that I powered through them all pretty quickly, so instead of writing separate reviews I have decided to do them all in one.
Oryx and Crake –
Oryx and Crake starts with Jimmy/Snowman who seems to be the only survivor of a post apocalyptic world. Jimmy is a hermit type character, stranded alone with some mysterious new form of humans who regard him as a strange life form and fending off Wolvrogs and pigoons, which are strange spliced animal hybrids.
The novel is then told by flipping back and forth through Jimmy’s memories from the world pre-apocalypse and present day, we rifle through the friendship of Jimmy and Crake and their life in the elite ‘compounds’ where they spent most of their days playing the online game Extinctathon and watching porn. Jimmy and Crake then go their separate ways; Crake to the elite Watson Crick and Jimmy to the artistic (and run down) Martha Graham, a warning for literature students reading this book, the joking barbs towards the humanities and lack of prospects for people who study it does sting.
We continually flick back to Jimmy/Snowman’s present life in which we are introduced to Crake’s creations, genetically engineered humans who do not need clothing, have no sense of religion and have their own inbuilt defence system through their urine. Jimmy guides these people as a messiah through a world voided of people, telling the Crakers stories of the great Crake and how he cleared the world of chaos; however it is not until much later in the story that we learn the truth of how this chaos actually came to pass.
The slow building narrative which flits from past to present with the two timelines slowly creeping towards each other is very effective, by the time we have met Crake and Oryx and explored theirs and Jimmy’s relationship the reader is practically begging to know what happened, ‘what the hell did Crake do?!’ I kept muttering furiously at my book.
Finally, Crake’s plague is revealed, I won’t reveal too much as I do think this is a book everyone needs to read, but I will say it was an ‘oh my days’ moment. ‘Oryx and Crake’ then culminates in a barely alive Jimmy discovering 3 more people alive and wondering whether to kill or approach them.
Dun dun dun.
The Year of the Flood -
The Year of the Flood is told through the dual view points of Ren and Toby, two women who were once part of the Gods Gardeners (who were briefly mentioned in the last book), and have also survived Crake’s plague. Their story is set in the pleeblands, which are the lower class parts of Atwood’s universe.
The story intertwines with that of Jimmy’s and Crake’s in that Ren and her friend Amanda are revealed to be Jimmy’s exes, Crake also makes an appearance as a young boy who has links to one of the gardeners named Pilar; however, apart from these brief glimpses the story is practically separate from that of Oryx and Crake and I couldn’t help but miss our flawed anti-hero, Jimmy.
Year of the flood does have its merits, Toby’s back story of her adolescence in the pleeblands and hierarchy of compounds, corpSecorps and mobs is very interesting and relatable in the increasing elitism and class divides of certain areas of the world.
Another way in which this story comes into its own is through the characterisation, Toby and Ren are much more relatable than the characters of Oryx and Crake, as they have more personality and humanity than the characters in the compounds who are often robotic and clinical. However, is it the soullessness of the original characters that often makes the first novel interesting as when reading a sci-fi novel (although Atwood insists she does not write sci-fi) you want to read about people who are different and discover a universe which is not your own.
As a stand alone novel, The Year of the Flood is extremely well written and an enjoyable read; however, after the excitement and abnormality of Oryx and Crake I struggled to be as interested in the plot and could not help but wish the socially awkward Crake would pop up with every turn of the page
The final part in the Oryx and Crake trilogy and to be honest I was looking forward to reading this book in order to get back to Jimmy and get some answers as to why the plague had happened and tie up some loose ends from the first novel. However, in this respect I was disappointed; Maddaddam is once again narrated by Toby as she tells the story of Jimmy’s recovery and of her telling Zeb’s story to the Crakers. Zeb’s story of his part in Maddaddam and how his story intertwines with Crake’s is interesting, however it is not the answers I wanted.
I really wanted a definitive answer as to why Crake started the plague, why he killed Oryx and why did he leave Jimmy alive to sculpt his new world?!
Some questions of course could not be answered due to the ideological questions they posed, like the Crakers belief in Crake and Oryx as godly deities, even though the neurons associated with religion were removed. Also, why couldn’t they take away the Crackers’ singing without them becoming stupid and empty? That one is going to annoy me for awhile I think.
In summary, I think Maddaddam is an excellent ending to The Year of the Flood as it wraps up the story of Toby, Zeb and the God’s Gardeners very well; however, as a conclusion to Oryx and Crake I think it falls short. Another book is needed please Margaret Atwood.