If you look at a basic hierarchy of needs, you’ll find things like food and water at the bottom with safety on the next level. In some ways, this is what the two first books in the MaddAddam trilogy was about. The world fell apart and we followed a few people and saw them carve out a way to survive, securing their basic needs. But in this third book, they are beginning to be able to strive for bigger and better things like beginning to create a foundation for a way to live together, the beginnings of a society for both Crakers and plain old-fashioned humans.
Granted, the world is not safe. Three men who have served time in the Painball tournament, a tournament where murderers are pitted against each other and the survivors are released, are doing what they can to satisfy their needs, no matter how depraved.
These men are a constant threat for our settlers in this book. Other than that, this is mostly the book of Toby and Zeb. The Crakers have added Zeb to their pantheon of gods and this means that Toby has an excuse to get Zeb to tell her his life story and we get to listen in on this as well which fills out even more of the puzzle we have been working on fitting together throughout the first two books.
What I absolutely loved in this book, was, whenever it was story time for the Crakers. Each evening, preferably, they want a new story and these stories are part of their mythology, their way of understanding the world. Whoever tells the story has to put on Jimmy-the-Snowman’s red cap, eat the fish (or frog) brought by the Crakers and then tell them a story about Crake, Oryx, Zeb – or maybe Fuck, the special helper you call whenever you are in trouble. I absolutely adored reading these stories and how the story teller, Toby on most occasions, are really struggling to keep the Crakers from breaking out singing whenever the name Crake is mentioned and is really trying to explain the Crakers what’s going on as well as tell them stories from the past.
At later points, a young Craker named Blackbeard starts telling the stories and Atwood does a masterful job of changing the voice of the story teller while at the same time letting some things be a stable of the story telling. Both Jimmy and Toby has repeatedly been asking the Crakers to stop singing when they tell stories, and of course when Blackbeard is telling a story, he says the same things even though he too is a Craker and used to the singing.
I also really loved the Pigoons, the Pig Ones. After having seen animals reduced to what was needed to create meat in the first book, it is amazing to see these half pigs/half humans express themselves, care for each other and work together with the humans to eliminate a threat.
The ending of this book was sad, yet hopeful. I am torn between thinking that the ending was a very brave move on Atwood’s side and the only way this trilogy could possibly end. Either way it was a very fitting end to an amazing trilogy. A lot of things were explained but not quite everything. I’m still trying to piece together why Crake did what he did to Oryx and also, the importance of this girl who plays a somewhat small role but is still important enough to be in the title of the first book and be the mother of all animals in the Craker mythology.
Whereas the focus in the first two books was on survival and how they ended up in this dystopic world, this book is more about living. This means building relationships, making long-term solutions for their lives as well as teaching the Crakers things. Not only teaching them their history through story telling but also teaching writing and the importance of caring about books. What Toby learns Blackbeard is similar to the practice in Medieval cloisters where the monks copied the books when they read it so the words were spread. Particularly the Bible, of course.
It is interesting how Crake tried to remove all what we normally consider human qualities from the Crakers and yet, some parts were impossible to remove if they were to have anything resembling a working mind. He couldn’t do away with the singing – they became mindless bag of bones if he did. So what this book also is, is a comment on what makes us humans. The Crakers are humans too and they need to have both their singing and their stories, their faith, to exist. In a time where we often focus more on making money and on productivity than on almost anything else and where the world is being destroyed, it is necessary that we are reminded of what makes us humans and not just shells of flesh. We need the arts, the humanities, philosophy – we need all that to be the best we can be.
‘If a nation’s culture survives, so too does the nation.’
First lines: In the beginning, you lived inside the Egg. That is where Crake made you. Yes, good, kind Crake. Please stop singing or I can’t go on with the story.
- Title: MaddAddam
- Author: Margaret Atwood
- Publisher: Virago
- Year: 2013
- Pages: 394 pages
- Source: Own collection
- Stars: 5 stars out of 5