by MARGARET ATWOOD
God should ask Margaret Atwood to design the apocalypse.
I think I might be too easy a judge when it comes to books, because occasionally I start to feel like I love everything I read. Mostly. I have a feeling that reading Going Rogue would elicit different results, but onward.
I went into this book knowing very little apart from the fact that it’s the newest Atwood, and as a huge fan of her work, I was terribly excited to read it. As I got into the book, I realized that it was meant to mirror Oryx & Crake, the book that really turned me on to Atwood in the first place. (I had read Cat’s Eye and thought it was pretty fair, but Oryx & Crake was a near-orgasmic experience.)
If you’re planning on picking this book up, I would highly recommend O&C first, but definitely get around to it after. Atwood’s characters feel hauntingly familiar and believable, even in a futuristic world (and an uncomfortably plausible one at that).
The book follows the Gardeners, a small religious sect that combines a vaguely Christian god with vegetarianism and a prepper‘s fear of the apocalypse. The group, led by the apostle-like Adam One, is peaceful (with the exception of the enigmatic, streetwise Zeb). The group cultivates its own garden and uses natural remedies rather than the synthetically produced drugs and food that are now widely available. Companies largely run this futuristic world, including the well-named CorpSeCorps (Atwood has a flair for bizarre names such as this. Some of my favorites have been the HappiCuppa and Scales N Tails). When the so-called “Waterless Flood” arrives, our various heroes must use their resources to survive in a world where natural predators are the tamest of their worries.
Although most of the book has a sedate tone, it’s an engrossing, quick read. I did feel myself lagging a little during the Gardener “sermons” by Adam One that occasionally head up a new chapter. A little too reminiscent of a Catholic homily, but they can be easily skipped or skimmed without losing too much of the meat of the book.
The two central characters of this book — this time both women — are perfect counter points to Oryx & Crake’s Jimmy (a.k.a. Snowman) and Glen (Crake). Toby is a strikingly strong woman with a rough past, a quiet wisdom and quietly fierce survival instincts. Ren is a younger, softer, more malleable character whose vulnerability is surprisingly likeable. While both characters feel longing for their respective love interests, they stand alone quite well — a nice change from the lovesick heroine whose only happy ending is a willing husband of the Bridget Jones variety.
It would be a mistake to call this book a work of science fiction, though it does take place in the future. Atwood’s chosen description is “speculative fiction,” I believe, and that description fits well. The book is a fresh, intelligent read, and one well worthy of sitting on your shelf in hardback form.