At the same time that I was experiencing society’s potentially disgusting destination through your amazingly clear prose, I was… comforted? grieved? by the knowledge that mankind has been wiped out by its own excess. Oryx and Crake opens on the desolate reality that Jimmy has somehow inherited – I won’t spoil the specifics for anyone who hasn’t read them yet. Read them now! – and through Jimmie’s flash-backs that are filled with a dry wit and deep sadness, we find out how this disaster occurred. I couldn’t help thinking, even when I was wretched with sympathy for Jimmie, was this apocalyptic plague a disaster, or a blessing?
I also really liked how The Year of the Flood takes place in the same year as Oryx and Crake, and how you focussed on Toby and Ren, two other survivors of ‘the waterless flood’, giving another perspective to the build-up to the plague. As both are poor ‘pleeb-land’ commoners at the mercy of the Corporations, and members of the vegetarian cult the ‘Gods Gardeners’, it was fascinating to learn how they are both survivors in many ways. After Oryx and Crake, it was really interesting to see that there was a minority who have a very specific relationship to animals, seeing their lives as vital and their survival as crucial to the world.
Every issue we write a letter to an author that has inspired and influenced us. For our Animals, Beasts and Creatures issue, Laurel tells Margaret Atwood how wonderful, harrowing, important and fun she finds her Maddaddam Trilogy.
Dear Margaret Atwood,
I hope that this letter finds you well, writing, and still saving the world word by perfectly chosen word. I see from Twitter that you have recently been in your ‘writing burrow’. I have been imagining you in a small dark hole in the earth balancing your laptop on your knee, with an interested glow-in-the dark rabbit twitching its nose over your shoulder.
I have read and been moved/changed by many of your books, but I wanted to write to you specifically about Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam. When I read Oryx and Crake, where you show us the downfall of the human race from the perspective of Jimmy – I love that he is just an average guy who has seemingly miraculously survived the plague that has wiped out the rest of the human race – I was both devastated and excited. Yes, I thought, this is it. This is where we are going!
In Maddaddam, the third and final book, you show us how the survivors of the waterless flood try to survive in this changed and unpredictable world that is no longer purely tailored to humanity's needs. Now that human civilization is lost, the animals and plants are reclaiming the earth. There are other beings now, greater in number and possibly a match in intelligence, that they are forced to share the planet with. It illustrates a situation where the survivors might have to admit that beings other than themselves have an equal claim to the earth. Margaret, I think that this is truly inspired! I think the way you build throughout the story to illustrate this (in my opinion) simple point, how all the complex threads of the narrative relate in some way to this realisation, is completely brilliant.
Daughter of a couple of Buddhist vegetarians, one of whom is constantly lamenting the madness of humanity and the idiocy of how our government is running things, I already had a healthy mistrust of genetic engineering and multinational corporations. Reading your books brought this back to the forefront of things for me. But even when these genuine concerns were gripping me, I truly enjoyed reading these books. Your talent to create such complex, sympathetic and funny characters made this experience wholly entertaining, and you have managed to mix these very serious themes with an amazing plot and a page-turning level of excitement. You probably know this already Margaret, but this kind of book is a rare and wonderful thing to find!
I won’t keep you any longer Margaret, I just wanted to say, really, that your books are a real blessing for me, your many readers, and, quite possibly, the planet.
Is there an author that has inspired you, whose books involve objects, artefacts or tokens in some way? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with 100 words on this author, and we may contact you to write your 'Letter to...' in the next issue!
"Was this apocalyptic plague a disaster, or a blessing?"
Throughout the three books, I feel like the human relationship to animals signifies our callous, frivolous and dangerous disconnection to the world in which we are living. Is that a correct interpretation? It’s like, not only do we claim the right to torture them, consume them and remove their habitats, but we go so far as to alter their very DNA, to twist and change them so that they can be more useful, or simply more amusing. And I can’t help thinking that this is already happening now, and the destination you have predicted this will lead to is almost in view. I was gripped in a very similar way to how I was by The Handmaid’s Tale, which shares this ability you have to look at the human race and see the terrifying possibility of our future. Because it all feels very possible. The genetic engineering of life to suit our needs, a world run by corporations with no regulators or morals, climate change flooding and reducing much of the planet, species of animals winking out like lights, the complete separation by walls, genetic IDs and brute force between the rich and the poor, pay-per-view suicides, murders and abuse, all feel like the extreme and harrowing side of our society today. I can’t help feeling like this could actually happen.
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