MaddAddam, the third and final installation in Margaret Atwood’s sweeping post apocalyptic trilogy seems at first to pack in less action than the initial two (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood). So in that way it is less an apocalyptic terror story and more an intrusive, instinctive and incisive study of people. Through storytelling and flashbacks we learn the stories of some of the central characters in the previous books and what shaped them and led them to where they are currently. There are a lot of themes at work, but what is particularly inventive is the idea that she conveys of how central ‘storytelling’ is to our understanding of the world.
The two previous books in the series were passionate in their allegorical social and environmental critique. Oryx and Crake was a story of sweeping scope, lyrically written and filled with unforgettable characters. Year of the Flood drove the story to a whole new level, giving depth to the parable and we saw new characters like Zeb, Toby and Adam joining Oryx, Crake and Jimmy from the Crake book.
Toby, who is one of the two central figures in The Year of the Flood, becomes the core around which this final book is written. She becomes the story-teller to the Crackers, and the person who develops their capacity to write and to pass on their own stories. She finally gets the chance to come to know Zeb, whom she has regarded with curiosity from a distance, like a slowly developing crush. But life in the aftermath of the ‘waterless flood’ is very difficult, and there is no guarantee of a future. So this also becomes a novel about the struggle, with a strange, mixed ending that underlines different environmental thinking.
Some of the surviving characters from the second book in the trilogy seem disengaged in their world of survival. They seem static, without any real growth or understanding and their back stories and flashbacks seem a bit dry. Long stretches of the middle seemed uninteresting and useless to the continuation of the plot or even character development. What this book sorely misses are those fine stroked characters, with substantial layers to their behavior and personalities. Toby is reduced to a love-sick puppy and Zeb comes across as monotonous.
Atwood is known for her skill at creating masterful cliffhangers for her readers, but when it came to the resolution of this futuristic world she somehow fails to maintain the suspense. However, what we do get from Atwood is this sense of great compassion and concern for humanity and the natural world and some hope. In this book, like most of her other books, we find Margaret Atwood’s writing and craft marrying a specific plot with strong, nuanced female characters.