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Updated: November 10, 2013 15:29 IST

Apocalypse now

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MaddAddam; Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury, Rs. 699.
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MaddAddam; Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury, Rs. 699.

The remarkable conclusion to Atwood’s sci-fi trilogy has both adventure and musings on man-made disasters.

Many years ago, when Margaret Atwood was asked about the difference between a short story and a novel, she said: “Short stories are short and novels are long.” If you cannot get answers from her books, there is no point in trying to help her readers, she argues.

Like her other novels, MaddAddam is also multifaceted, complex and satirical. Humorous, sardonic and resistant at the same time, she gets under the skins of her characters, exposing their raw nerves. Being a daughter of an entomologist, she has always thought of things under threat, and sure enough this last novel brings the apocalyptic end of the world. Moving from Quebec bush-country to the city after many years of her childhood spent in the wilderness, she is amazed by all social groups which ‘appear equally bizarre, all artefacts and habits peculiar and strange’.

Atwood therefore, is delighted, and yet pained, at the end of the world. ‘Where, where is the town?’ Talking Heads sang. “Now, it’s nothing but flowers.’ The survivors of her previous two novels Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood now await the last confrontation for the future of mankind in the final part of the trilogy. Using the oral tradition, Atwood tells the story through the eyes of Toby, the female survivor from her second part of the trilogy. Toby belongs to the eco-spiritualists, called Gardeners, who have survived because of their skills at facing a dreadful existence created by the corporatised world. She explains the origins of such a world to the children of Crake, an insane scientist who has more or less destroyed humanity through a ‘designer disease’ replacing it with the post-human species of Crackers, naked and childlike beings frolicking in sexual freedom, eating only plants while the human survivors visualise them residing in a futuristic Garden of Eden.

As Toby tells her story, she exaggerates and concocts a new ‘reality’ about humans who are made out to consider themselves heroes in a world they refuse to realise is verging on its demise: ‘The people in the chaos cannot learn. They cannot understand what they are doing to the sea and the sky and the plants and the animals. They cannot understand that they are killing them, and that they will end by killing themselves. . . . So there is only one thing left to do.’ Though signs of hope glimmer at the end, it is difficult to imagine a future where the existing Homo sapiens will survive.

Though the central story of Toby’s love for Zeb, the brother of Adam, is full of pain and sorrow, the novel is replete with mordant humour and indignation expressed through a language that is both unsettling and yet beautiful. ‘The smaller birds are stirring, beginning to cheep and trill; pink cloud filaments float above the eastern horizon, brightening to gold at the lower edges.” Both Adam and Zeb support Crake’s apocalyptic project. Adam who is the founder of the Gardeners uses the codename MaddAddam (a palindrome) online to begin a movement spearheaded by radical gene hackers trained to break into biotech corporations.

Mixing memory and desire, Atwood creates a surreal future coloured with magic realism. The story brings together the Gardeners and the Crackers, though the latter do not understand why the former utter the expletive ‘Oh Fuck!’ every time they face disappointment. The world that is no more is never longed for. The new one takes birth out of a mythical imagination that had disappeared from the ‘New World Order’ of unbridled economics. Ironically, the future stands inhabited by a genetically modified race that Crake created not realising its paradoxical lab-created existence that was intended to end all that is artificial. Utopian or dystopian, the novel is a remarkable feat of the fabulous and the real coming together in a Huxleyian manner, projecting a brave new world of the post-apocalyptic human.


What comes next? Rules, dogmas, laws? The Testament of Crake? How soon before there are ancient texts they feel they have to obey but have forgotten how to interpret? Have I ruined them?

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