Monday, September 09, 2013

Oh No, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood books on my bookshelf:
I count 22 of them
I have now read Margaret Atwood's newest book, Madd Addam, published last week. I am painfully disappointed. I say this as a nearly lifelong Atwood fan. I own almost all her books, including this one, in hard cover because I can never wait for the paperbacks. I have even read her poetry -- and I never read poetry, generally.

Madd Addam is the third in a trilogy, which began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. Though not exactly fantasy, Oryx and Crake is a work of great imagination and humor. Maybe sardonic humor -- it's about a dystopian very-near-future when bioscience has gotten out of hand and global warming and other disasters have completely overtaken humanity. In fact, humanity has nearly been wiped out by a crazed attack by one of the genius scientists. Almost all the life in the book consists of strange genetic modifications of beasts and near-humans, and one lonely surviving man. But it's not that sad because the imaginativeness is really charming. The Year of the Flood begins before the disaster, and introduces a few new survivors and their quirky stories. In both, Margaret Atwood's brilliant writing ability in this and her previous books always makes me want to read more and more.

Madd Addam seems to me to lack any new imaginative inventions. Basically, the beasts and near-humans are the same as they were in the earlier volumes, no new ideas. The human characters, too, are mainly leftover from the two earlier books in the trilogy; the narrative about one man, Zeb, is the best part, but rather diluted by what I see as the theoretical stuff about human messing around with the environment and genetic mods.

Some of the inventive ideas from the earlier books are used in a way that is repetitive and ultimately annoying. For example, the genetic near-humans have trouble understanding subtleties, so the humans have to tell them simplified made-up tales. In Oryx and Crake, these are very amusing, and subtly explore how myths are made. The trope becomes burdensome when repeated in nearly every chapter of Madd Addam. The myths of the group known as God's Gardeners were poetic in The Year of the Flood; there was deep irony in the efforts of these persecuted dissidents. To me it became kind of a formula in Madd Addam.

In my reading experience, I've always found that it's hard for an author to sustain a vivid fantasy through a number of sequels. J.K.Rowling did it well in Harry Potter. L.Frank Baum usually had a couple of new inventions to sustain the Oz series, though the hack writers that took over from him were pretty hopeless. Even Through the Looking Glass is a little more systematic and less spontaneous than Alice in Wonderland, I think, though both are excellent. More recent series such as the Hunger Games and Dark Materials trilogies have some of the same flaws of becoming repetitive and losing spontanaity.

My first experience with such a thing was when I was around 8 or 9 and read the sequel to my favorite book The Princess and the Goblin. It was so disappointing that I cried, because it wasn't as vividly magical, but I've never had the nerve to reread it so I can't say what really bothered me. I guess I won't cry for Margaret Atwood. I hope she writes a better book in the future.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

I hate it when I read something from a favorite author that disappoints me. Well written review.