This month’s literary instalment was Madaddam by Margaret Atwood. The third instalment in her dystopian trilogy, the novel focuses on the few remaining survivors of a global pandemic- in particular Toby and Zeb, former members of a guerilla group named God’s Gardeners. The novel follows the group’s preparations to fight as they are stalked by the Painballers, hardened criminals who have escaped a fight to the death and now survive by torturing and eventually consuming any poor unfortunate to cross their path.
Many of the group were attracted to the series by Atwood’s extension of current global trends to their most extreme conclusion, for instance the privatization of public services such as the health and police forces, and their manipulation of services for increased financial gain. The idea of creating medication which in fact worsens your condition in order to increase your dependency on it was something we could all (depressingly!) imagine an unscrupulous corporation attempting. We weren’t all doom and gloom around the table however, as many members maintained that they did not believe that human beings were quite so evil as to allow standards to stoop so low, humans in Atwood’s narrative are decidedly dog eat dog, which felt a little hard to believe.
Additionally some of the dialogue felt very dated, given how rapidly hacking techniques and slang evolve it felt very unlikely that hackers some 70 years in the future would continue to use pixel portals and Leet speak. Surprisingly, many of us found our favourite element of the book was the Crakers, a genetically modified human race that glow blue when fertile and have only a basic concept of language and culture. Toby’s simply spoken storytelling sessions with these creatures were a great device to inject humour and explain plot points, and were a really enjoyable read. They also called the reader to question elements of existing human society that we take for granted by reducing them to a child’s comprehension.
The author is very widely known as a strident environmentalist and feminist, and does occasionally use the book as a mouthpiece, but her focus tends to be rather too general and it can occasionally feel obvious and a little patronizing. However, her prediction of a reversal of feminism did feel a little close to home at some points, with society’s desensitization of porn, culminating in Prostibots and virtual reality porno snuff films feeling all too familiar at points. Despite this, the main character Toby is kind of a wet flannel – armed with an antiquated rifle and no stranger to combat, I think we were all expecting a kickass female character of Buffy-esque badassery. Instead, Toby is one part loyal footsoldier and nine parts doe eyed moper over Zeb, the leader of the group. She spends a disproportionate amount of time (considering they are being stalked by serial rapists and hyper-intelligent killer pigs) wondering whether Zeb loves her, whether he has cheated on her, whether he too is doodling her initials on his exercise books. Not only this, but Toby repeatedly slut shames younger, more sexually active members of the group. As the reader may be able to tell, the author of this post feels deeply that both Toby and Atwood need to sort it out, stat.
Written by Rosie Mitchell