Until recently, dystopian fiction has never appealed to me, and I think I first decided to give something a try when my cousin told me to read The Hunger Games; she was sure I’d like it. I wasn’t quite so sure, so rather than spend precious reading time on a book I wasn’t sure about, I decided I’d listen to it while doing housework. My cousin was right, I did enjoy the story, and I think I had this astonishing fact in mind when I discovered Oryx and Crake in the Overdrive catalogue of audiobooks.
I had never given the book or the MaddAddam series a chance. To me dystopian fiction seemed full of harsh landscapes, harsh realities, and unrelatable characters. As an escapist reader, I could think of other destinations. I was happily surprised to find that I really did engage with the story, at least enough that I wanted to listen while puttering away at home. At first I needed to know Snowman’s story. Where did Snowman come from, and why that name? There was also something else that kept me listening; something about this ugly world unfolding with each word, and wanting to know who Snowman is mourning, and why he’s so filthy.
By the end of the first book, I needed badly to know what the outcome of this doom might look like, so I immediately downloaded the second book, The Year of the Flood. This story begins in a different time and place with different characters than we met in the first book so my need wasn’t actually satisfied until the final book, MaddAddam. Yet, listen I did. The characters gained vibrancy and personality throughout the books, many becoming quite relatable, and the stories and point of view more humorous.
Enjoying audiobooks as I do, I felt quite excited by having multiple narrators helping to develop the story. Each one was distinct enough that it was easy to tell who was speaking or whose point of view was being represented. Of all the narrators, I only disliked one. In the process of writing up this blog post I realized it happened to (ahem) be Margaret Atwood herself, reading the character of Toby. Interestingly, Toby is one of my favourite characters, but I had a bit of a hard time getting past the tone of her voice reading Toby as though she were uninterested in the world, what was happening, her part in all of it, or life in general; all of which are opposite to my impressions of her character, and reasons why I liked her.
Paying attention to the world around myself, it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine some catastrophe that just may change the shape of my daily life, my priorities, and all the structures I’ve built in life. Deciding to run along with this idea for a while, I next listened to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Read by the prolific Kirsten Potter, the story was at once terrifying and enchanting. Hearing the stories of the characters and how they survived the collapse was nearly inspiring, and the travelling Shakespearean troupe added an endearing familiarity and quaintness.
Both authors set their books, at least in part, in Ontario, my home province, which added to the appeal. All the books include strong characters facing adversity, and the task of carving out an entirely new way of being in the world through the strength of friendship, community and chance.