This is one of the most important and necessary novels written in the twenty-first century so far. It’s relevant, it’s powerful and it really is needed. Go read it!
Margaret Atwood ended the world in Oryx and Crake. She presented a vision of the future that is not too far removed from where the planet is heading. And, in a way, this book is an answer to such environmental catastrophe.
Firstly though, it is worth mentioning that this is not really a sequel, it is told alongside the events of the first book. Atwood presents another vision here: a vision of how we can (or how we would) work towards preventing environmental collapse. It is the very best of speculative fiction because it plays with real world ideas and fears. There is nothing in here that is implausible. It is often marketed as a science fiction novel, but I would not quite call it science fiction because it adds nothing that could not one day be real. And, unlike the harsh scientific solution to world’s problems she delivers in Oryx and Crake, the ideas she discusses here are more compassionate.
The Gardeners are humanity’s hope. They are a radical green group that advocate living in a way far removed from the customs of standard society. Recycling is their religion. Reusing is their faith. They work towards protecting mother earth in all her glory by minimising humanity’s impact on it. They are a reactionary group, reacting against environmental collapse and a lack of resources that dominated the narrative of Oryx and Crake. They are vegetarians and they live in their own private commune, boycotting consumerism and the pharmaceutical companies that control the population (without them ever being aware of it).
“By covering such barren rooftops with greenery we are doing our small part in the redemption of God’s creation from the decay and sterility that lies all around us, and feeding ourselves with unpolluted food into the bargain, Some would term our efforts futile, but if all were to follow our example, what a change would be wrought on our beloved Planet!”
They believe “the flood” is coming, a symbolic collapse in which only the pure will survive in the new world after the old one has been destroyed by man’s selfish ways. They have extremely strong beliefs, but they are also practical and are willing to relinquish certain elements of their creed when faced with survivalist choices. They are not entirely bigoted, and their leaders are far cleverer than they initially appear. In such a group, Atwood presents a counterattack on man’s current ways. And when considering the state of the world today, the current environment protests by schools in Northern Europe, the surge in veganism and vegetarianism and an increased interest in maintaining what’s left of the environment, Atwood’s green cult feels very real and, in a way, a possible answer to the problems we are facing.
I feel like a group not unlike these could exist one day. And Atwood really sympathises with their plight and efforts here. It is a fantastic piece of writing.
Review by Sean Barrs
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