Margaret Atwood on MaddAddam and literary fame


Margaret Atwood's latest novel is MaddAddam. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

First aired on The Sunday Edition (15/09/13)

The publication of a Margaret Atwood novel is a major event in the literary world. The book is reviewed everywhere that matters -- in The New Yorker, The Guardian, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal -- and the iconic author herself appears on the covers of magazines and is interviewed by newspapers around the world, on television and radio. Photos are taken, feature articles are written and she criss-crosses the country to appear at numerous public events...there are more than 30 of these listed on her website right now.


Atwood dropped by the Toronto studio of The Sunday Edition this past weekend to chat with host Michael Enright about her latest novel, MaddAddam, and what it's like to be in the literary spotlight.

MaddAddam has been greeted with universal critical praise. When asked if she feels a sense of relief at its reception, Atwood said that when a book goes out into the world, "there's that moment when you're waving the book goodbye. The author's farewell to the book, you know. 'Here's your bus ticket, here's your lunch bucket. Goodbye.' And then you have empty nest syndrome. "

MaddAddam is the third book in a dystopian trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake, in 2003, and was followed by The Year of the Flood in 2009. Atwood said she didn't actually set out to write a trilogy. "But about five minutes after I finished it [Oryx and Crake] I realized I was going to have to go back in and explain what those God's Gardeners were doing, and what their theology was," she explained. "And then I was going to have to investigate the Maddaddamites, who are the bio-resistance folk who are trying to undermine the infrastructure of the overbearing corporations, not today, but in this imaginary future, that are wielding so much power." She added that "it took three because I didn't want to write a thousand-page novel."

Atwood has said that her novels always start with a "what if." The "what if" of Maddaddam is "what if we opened the Pandora's toy box that we have indeed opened, and start fooling around with our own genetic make-up, with a view to improvement, as indeed we are now doing," she said. "But the improver in the book goes a little bit further than we have yet gone, and makes a much, in his view, much improved human being that has none of the drawbacks that bedevil us."

In Greek mythology, Pandora's box "was full of evils, and then there was hope at the bottom. Whereas we think that the box is full of goodies. That's what we think at the moment," Atwood said. "Fooling with genetic code, it's another human tool, and as we know about human tools, we make all kinds of them. Some of them deal with our desires, and some of them with our fears, and just about every single one of them has unintended consequences."

The world of Maddaddam is vividly realized, and has its own language and artifacts, such as BlyssPluss pills and the Extinctathon. When asked how she comes up with these kind of things, Atwood compared it to the process of inventing a world "when you were about eight. So you know that if you were composing a world at that time, probably with a group of friends, you want to know the basic things about it. What do we wear, who's the boss, what do we eat in this world, who's the enemy, how are we all getting along together."

Atwood is very active on social media, and has more than 424,000 followers on Twitter. She sees it as another way of reaching an audience. "They're all methods of communication. And human beings, that's what they love to do, they love to interact with one another," she said. "Twitter happens to be quite short. Think of them as the telegram redone. It's a way of having your own tiny, weenie little radio show."

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