Minette Walters made her name as a writer of tense, gory, often harrowing psychological thrillers. She must have felt that she'd written herself out because this is her first book for ten years and it's a sweeping historical saga in the style of Ken Follett. I say sweeping but in fact she's working on a small canvas; it's 1348 and Lady Anne of the manor of Devilish in Dorset hears of a strange and devestating pestilence sweeping the countryside and orders all her serfs within the walls to sit out out the spread of the disease. Needess to say conflicts start developing among the 200 souls who are confined closely together.
This is a bit of a curates egg of a book. It is full of wild anachronisms- Lady Anne is incredibly well educated and has a grasp of how infection is spread that many people didn't have in the 19th century, her ideas on equlity, the poor improving their lot, high birth not necessarilymeaning that you have an automatic right to the service of others, consideration to your servants, sexual abuse and the right of women not to sleep with their husbands are very 21st century and definitely not medieval. Some of the charecters come straight out of central casting too; the spoilt daughter of the house, the noble base born steward, the quiet little woman who is so much cleverer than anyone notices.
But for me the good bits outweigh the clunky stuff completely (I'm a historian's grandaughter and normally I can't stand that sort of stuff.) Minette Walters is very good indeed at creating atmosphereand a sense of place. Her descriptions of the confinement where no-one knows how the disease is spreading, if there is anyone left alive is compêlling as is the ways she describes the life of the serf. There is a long part near the end of the book where the base born steward and five youths go out to search for supplies, none of them have ever been outside the boundaries of the manor lands before, have ever seen a differnt style of house or as it turns out, a cat.The world; the one very small corner of Dorset they visit, is bigger, more exciting and infinitely more frightening than any of them imagine.
All in all this was a very good read. However, be warned it's part of a series and ends very abruptly.
By Ting Mikyunyu
MADDADDAM is the last in the Oryx and Crake trilogy.
It is set during the year following the “waterless flood”, the disease engineered by Crake to wipe out humanity. The flood left behind isolated human groups and individuals that begin to find each other. Not all of them are as ‘good’ as the few surviving God’s Gardeners. The ‘ungood’ are a trio of ‘Painballers’ - killer criminals who survived the ultimate penalty of the justice system.
The most important group of survivors are the Crakers, the humanlike beings engineered by Crake to replace the human race. Unfortunately, the Crakers are ill-equipped to handle evil, having been created without any understanding of wrongness and without fear. They are - at least for now - naked, vegetarian, having an unusual mating habit, a natural insect repellent, and a unique vocal structure that allows them to purr (for healing purposes) and to sing. They can also speak.
This novel gathers together all the separate threads from ‘Oryx and Crake’ and ‘The Year of the Flood’. The technique for this is storytelling, as in the stories told by Toby, a God’s Gardener, to the Crakers, after an incident that draws the two groups together for mutual support. As they learn to cooperate in a rapidly disintegrating environment, they soon realise that they cannot continue much longer without assistance. The Painballers are an approaching threat. With the telepathic, interpretive skills of the Crakers, Pigoons (a species created by splicing human intelligence into pigs brains) become a cooperating partner.
The storytelling of Toby (a middle-aged woman) becomes less prominent as the action intervenes. As a technique it could have been boring but Atwood writes it in a unique way, so effective that from it we learn a great deal about the Crakers without them having to utter a word. An example of the beginning of a Toby story:
MaddAddam is a fitting finale to this trilogy. Atwood’s imagination remains at peak level to the conclusion. Her similes continue to astound. Her sense of colour continues to enhance our imagination. Her humour and wit remain unabated. Her predictions of what is to come - what is almost upon us - are as horrifyingly plausible as ever.
Raised in the backwater province of Crowthorne, Cara finds her fate bound to a system she despises and a goddess she no longer believes in. When it becomes clear that the heir to the Elbian throne has found disfavor in the eyes of the goddess Annul, Cara is ordained by blood and required by law to take her cousin's place as heir apparent.
One man from each of the twelve provinces are chosen by the royal council to pledge their lives and swords as champions and consorts of the future queen. From these men, Cara must choose the future king of Elbia. Before she is able to take her place on the throne, Cara and her Twelve must visit each province and perform a sacred ceremony, one that will make Cara question everything she thought was real.
Cara soon realizes that not all of the men who swore to protect her are what they seem, and there are those who would use her as a tool to gain power.
This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro and I am mighty impressed. The actual storyline of the book is good, but the subtle meanings are even better.
On the surface, this is the story of Axl and Beatrice, elderly Britons, trying to visit their grown son. But they, like everyone else in this land, have lost their memories and only have the vaguest recollection of their son and even their personal stories, including their shared history. So off they go on this very unclear quest and on their way, they meet up with a young boy (a Saxon), a soldier (also a Saxon), and Sir Gawain himself (a Briton). In the end, they do not find their son, but their memories are beginning to return and then Beatrice goes on a journey by herself to the island where the son lives. It turns out,
So, this book gracefully examines issues like how to deal with populations that live together, but have hated each other for generations; what is justified by war; the cleansing of the reputation of national heroes (a type of memory manipulation); the importance of memory to the human experience; and the deliverance of death. By the time I got to the end of the book, I couldn't believe how many thorny issues had been explored by this little fable and never once did I think I had been lectured to. In fact, what was interesting was how I couldn't decide the best answer to each issue. Is it preferable to lose your memory and live peacefully or retain your memory only to embrace hatred? Is the sacrifice of a innocents ever justified in order to end a war and does your answer change if the innocents belong to the group that "started it" (made me think about the discussion of the atom bombs used in WWII, but really, it's true of all wars). Should we abandon the whole concept of national heroes, even when very flawed people have done very heroic things? And is death a journey to be embraced or fought?
The more I've thought about this book, the more I've liked and admired it. Has anyone else read it? If not, please do and respond as quickly as possible.