A dystopian trilogy that is easily a match for The Hunger Games…
Oryx and Crake
I went into Oryx and Crake having never read anything by Margaret Atwood and knowing very little about the subject matter. When I finished the book, barely a day later, I was left breathless and stunned by the sheer quality of Atwood’s seminal novel.
Oryx and Crake is a heady mix of 1984‘s totalitarian regime and Brave New World‘s absurdism but in a post apocalyptic landscape akin to 28 Days Later. Unlike most novels in this genre however, Atwood’s world has a very unique flavour that elevates it above the standard of most of its peers.
The story on the surface is a familiar and simple one, with a lone protagonist trying to make his way as the last human survivor of a terrible virus. Beneath this recognizable veneer however, is a whole universe of jigsaw pieces just waiting to be expertly slotted together. Atwood has no trouble with a male narrator and Snowman (Jimmy) is relatable and sympathetic despite having numerous flaws.
I haven’t read a book this quickly since the first book in the aforementioned Hunger Games trilogy. Oryx and Crake is darker, more original and just plain better than Suzanne Collins teen melodrama. If you read one book this year, make it this one.
The Year of the Flood
In The Year of the Flood, the focus falls on a strange cult called Gods Gardeners and the various characters it contains…
The second instalment is always the most troublesome in any trilogy (aside from The Empire Strikes Back obviously). Too often they exist only as a bridge between the inaugural and final entries. The second book/film of a trilogy often struggles to justify it’s existence in its own right, as a separate piece of work. The Year of the Flood suffers from this condition, albeit not in the usual way.
The Year of the Flood makes the brave choice of introducing numerous new characters and shifting the focus to a different location. The second book in the Crake trilogy runs concurrently alongside the first which at times makes for a fractured and confusing narrative. The main problem with The Year of the Flood however, is that the newly introduced characters simply aren’t as compelling as those in the first book and too often they are interchangeable.
The other issue is that Oryx and Crake finishes on a cliff hanger which The Year of the Flood takes an age to resolve. This makes concentration difficult, especially in the first half of the novel when asked to memorize so many new characters. Thankfully, the last third of the book manages to recapture the breathless pace of the first novel and saves a story that is too often ponderous and slow.
The story continues where Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood left off with **(spoilers)** all the main characters united against a common evil…
The final book of Margaret Atwood’s science fiction trilogy is the moment where everything beautifully ties together. MaddAddam is the pay off that makes all the character development from The Year of the Flood worth while. We have spent enough time with Ren and Amanda to make their various perils feel shocking and the Crakers (the perfect life forms invented by Crake to inherit the Earth) are at turns hilarious, adorable and courageous.
MaddAddam‘s only downfall is the focus on the vacuous caricature that is Zeb. His constant sexual innuendo’s and terrible puns feel out of place in such a dark and biting social satire and I hope his character is not as prominent in the forthcoming HBO adaptation. Aside from that misstep though, MaddAddam is perhaps the most successful novel of the three as every loose end is tied up with impressive efficiency.
I found the Crake trilogy to be up there with anything I have previously read and it has the potential to become the next big book to film adaptation. If it doesn’t though, read the books instead and lose yourself in the grimy and irresistible future world that Atwood has created.