Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, was once famously accosted by someone who reminded him that he hadn’t written a book as good as Catch-22 since its publication. His witty reply was pretty scathing – ‘neither has anyone else.’ The lesson here is that you can reach a level of success with a novel where the work itself becomes a double-edged sword in a writerly pissing contest – something so good that neither you or anyone else is going to surpass it anytime soon. Unfortunately, I think Margaret Atwood has fallen firmly into that trap.
MaddAddam is not a bad book. But I could almost post the same review I did for Year of the Flood and have the same effect. Largely speaking, MaddAddam is much more a sequel to Year of the Flood, than Oryx and Crake. It picks up directly after Year and follows the narrative of its characters – it must, as the real principle character of Oryx is dead, and the effects of his actions are at this point spent.
Any criticism feels somehow too harsh. Part of this is because I really liked Oryx and Crake, and part of it from the fact that I look at this novel and simply can’t figure out what it is that I didn’t like about it. It would be as if you were eating some food and you know something is missing, but have no idea exactly what it is. The story has a frame of sorts in the form of the character Toby telling stories to the Crakers, and this was enjoyable. The relationship between Zeb and Toby was as well. But I just don’t feel like this functioned well as a sequel to Oryx and Crake.
I’ll go ahead and make a wild-ass guess as to my dissatisfaction with the sequels in this series. Oryx and Crake, the novel, is roughly speaking about the end of humanity. The book ends with a scene that, for me at least, didn’t function as a cliffhanger so much as emphasize the ‘humanity = shit’ theme of the novel – Snowman sees other humans and automatically goes into self-defense mode, and this functions as a foil to the passive Crakers, and makes us think that maybe Crake was right to kill humanity off. Despite that Crake is depicted as a psychopath in the novel, I walked away with something of a ‘sympathy for the devil’ moment. The series felt done with humanity. Maybe the series would have been better turning on the ‘Canitcle for Leibowitz’ direction, and jumping a few hundred years into the future?
Playing after the battle general is easy, and so I won’t pat myself on the back too hard for that above guess. Frankly, the more I think about that above suggestion, the sillier a book I think it would be. Which I think was my point to begin with. I think there really wasn’t anywhere good to go after Oryx and Crake.