September 2013

Arts & Letters

Margaret Atwood's 'MaddAddam'

By Peter Pierce

An early book in Margaret Atwood’s prolific and acclaimed career was a guide to Canadian literature called Survival. Implicitly, that notion informs the post-apocalyptic trilogy of novels that concludes with MaddAddam. In this last book, it is less than a year since a human-generated plague (“the Waterless Flood”) destroyed most of mankind. “Gleaning” what they can from the ruined world around them, the few survivors are not given to despair, but feel akin to “the closed circles of the marooned, the shipwrecked, the besieged”. These people (their tale told principally by Toby, one of the Eves among the gentle sect of God’s Gardeners) share the landscape with Crakers, “strange gene-spliced quasi-humans who lived by the sea”, “pigoons – transgenic pigs with human material designed for transplants” and the vicious Painballers, “soul-dead neurotrash”. They are among the denizens of the world – perhaps soon to come – of Atwood’s imagining.

She avers that the book includes no “technologies or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory”. The role of the prophet (insofar, and however ironically, Atwood accepts it) and that of the satirist are closely entwined. Prophesying damnation, the former always inveighs against the ills of the present. Depicting its amusements before the pandemic, Atwood is at once bitter and hilarious: “live-streamed suicides or Hott Totts kiddy porn or Hedsoff real-time executions”. The last are for the “truly jaded”. These programs stream into the homes of the corporate powerful and into the Pleeblands. Everywhere, computer hackers and drug peddlers wage vicious civil wars. Inventors of religions that milk their adherents, such as the father of Adam and Zeb, who are focal points of the narrative, are unaware of how near the “end times” they preach really are.

Yet Atwood’s daringly confident invention of those times has none of the Beckettian prose economy and gloom of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Rather, MaddAddam has an unexpected but beguiling exuberance. Its characters’ dialogue – even in extremity – is often very funny. There are exciting micro-narratives within the whole, such as the pursuit of Zeb by DORCS, “digital online rapid capture specialists”, and various stories of origins, of how a world on the brink of near-extinction came to be. We are transported to many corners of it: wilderness where the legendary bear monster sasquatch seems to appear; the sex club franchise Scales and Tails, and the Anoo Yoo spa that becomes an unlikely refuge. One of the characters ambiguously declares that “hope can ruin you”, but the novel shows that it is a nearly inexpungable part of humanity. A wise, sometimes beautiful piece of foretelling, MaddAddam is another remarkable turn for Atwood.

Peter Pierce
Peter Pierce is a professor of Australian Literature at James Cook University. He is the co-author of Vietnam Days and the editor of The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia.

September 2013

From the front page

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs


In This Issue

Catherine Titasey’s ‘My Island Homicide’

A cassowary visits Jan Shang’s backyard in Innisfail, Queensland. © Eddie Safarik / Newspix

Jim Sterba’s 'Nature Wars'

Why Australia hates asylum seekers

Our governments and press have demonised boat people for 15 years. Organisations like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre worry they’re fighting a losing battle.

Mal Brough making a splash in the Tiwi Islands, 2010. © Amos Aikman / Newspix

Mal Brough crashes through


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Dhambit Munuŋgurr's Bees at Gäṉgän, 2019

Blue is the colour

The idiosyncratic work of Yolngu artist Dhambit Mununggurr

Image of ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Dividing the Tasman: ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Historian Bain Attwood examines the different approaches to sovereignty in the New Zealand and Australian settlements

Image of Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard’s wider world

The celebrated Australian author’s ‘Collected Stories’ sets private desperation in the cosmopolitan Europe she revered

Image from ‘Mank’

Citizen plain: ‘Mank’

David Fincher’s biopic of Orson Welles’s collaborating writer favours technique over heart


More in Noted

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller

Image of ‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’

‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’ by Richard Flanagan

The Booker Prize winner’s allegorical new novel about the permanence of loss

Image from ‘Kajillionaire’

‘Kajillionaire’ directed by Miranda July

A family of con artists are the American writer-director’s latest offbeat protagonists in a surreal but heartfelt film


Read on

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction


×
×