Monday, October 21, 2013

Mad About the Boy Review

(Warning, mild spoilers to follow...)

When I was 19, I lived in Australia for six months. I vividly remember being upset that I couldn't pack too many books and that I didn't have a lot of money to buy too many. This was pre-kindle days, of course. At one point, I ended up in a bookstore where I bought Bridget Jones' Diary and Bridget Jones: The Age of Reason. I absolutely fell in love (like much of the world) with flighty, zany, unlucky in love Bridget. I devoured both of those books and read them over and over for a long time. Granted, I probably haven't picked up either book since college or not long after, but I remember the plots pretty well. I did see the first movie, but really wasn't crazy about it (although maybe I should rewatch. I do love Colin Firth) and therefore never saw the second one. I remember reading that Helen Fielding had written some articles around 2005/6 where Bridget was still involved with both Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy. This led to a pregnancy of a little boy, who ended up being Daniel's son. She wound up living with Daniel, but Mark had apparently offered to adopt the baby, suggesting that he was still around.

This plot was abandoned for the third novel, Mad About the Boy. Bridget is older but still a ditz who drinks and eats too much. She is a 51 year old widow (it's no spoiler to reveal that Mark Darcy died five years before the present story - Fielding revealed that in several interviews) with two young children, Billy and Mabel. Bridget could barely take care of herself in the previous novels and now she has two children to manage. Their life is happy but disorganized and messy. Mark left her enough money that she doesn't need to work but they live in a small, comfortable house where a nanny cares for the children often and Bridget spends her time writing. She is working on an updated screenplay for Hedda Gabler, which she mistakenly believes was written by Chekov instead of Ibsen. Her friends, still ridiculous, boozy and offering terrible advice, call her a born again virgin since she hasn't had sex since Mark's death. Bridget also struggles with school drop off and pick up, the remotes, passwords for all technology and social media.

As an adult, Bridget is certainly still endearing and her exploits kind of adorable in a hot mess sort of way. I tore through this book in only a few days, a nice change from how long MaddAddam took me (I loved that book a lot and because of that really took my time and paid attention to it). However, as someone who feels that their life is more or less together at 32, Bridget's flightiness at 51 is a bit exasperating. Get yourself together, lady! The book starts in the present and then flashes back a year to Bridget as a sad, overweight widow, who finally resolves to improve her life by starting to lose weight. Because I bought the original books in Australia, the weight check ins at the start of every diary page were always in "stones" so I never had any idea what Bridget actually weighed. Buying the American version of this book was a nice change. Anyway, after some false starts, Bridget manages to lose about 40 pounds and starts exploring social media. She becomes annoyingly obsessed with Twitter, something I can't stand in real life, so it was a bit irritating that Bridget was so fascinated with it. I was also like, go be with your children (clearly my own infertility issues made me a little annoyed that Bridget had kids at 43 and 45 and neglected them in favor of social media) and stop playing around online. Bridget also has the maturity level of a 5 year old as she constantly talks about farting and vomit. That gets old rather fast.

But that's Bridget for you. She was always a bit over the top and annoying. But she is also relatable (why is blogger insisting that I'm spelling this word incorrectly?) in a lot of ways. She's an absolute mess who needed Mark Darcy to manage her life (how's that for feminism?) and keep her in line, while also allowing her to lighten his life - which is why they were meant to be. Anyway, the book zips along taking Bridget from one crazy situation to another. Twitter introduces her to Roxster, a 29 year old "toy boy" (as an American, I kept saying "boy toy", "boy toy" to myself). While Roxster certainly helps to reawaken Bridget sexually, the relationship clearly has no staying power, much like Daniel in the earlier books. In the background, Mr. Wallaker, a strict, disciplined teacher at her son's school, lurks. Much like Darcy, Bridget and Wallaker do not start off well but it's clear that something is going to happen between them as Wallaker keeps showing up. So yes, Helen Fielding essentially recreates the Darcy/Bridget/Daniel love triangle with Roxster and Wallaker. And it ends much as you would expect the book to in a romantic, completely satisfying way.

My husband always makes fun of me for referring to books as breezy, but that's what this way: a deliciously comforting, fun and entertaining read that brings Bridget to a whole new, unexpected (for her) happy ending, one you can't help but feel that she truly deserves after everything she's been through.

NY Times Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

MaddAddam Review

I'm a little embarrassed that it's been over a month since my last review. Chalk it up to my new insanely busy schedule. I love my new job but the first year of teaching anywhere is insane. I'm getting used to shorter periods and a longer commute by car rather than subway. The commute means I lose out on reading time. Plus, I used to read at the gym but now I take Zumba classes three times a week so now I don't have that time. Long story short, it takes me longer to read books and I just haven't had time to sit down and process this novel so I can properly review it.

So here goes. I first read Oryx and Crake years ago and absolutely loved it. I'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaiden's Tale was the first dystopian book I ever read. Oryx and Crake is Atwood's first book (I think) featuring a male protagonist. At the time, I had no idea the book would have a sequel, let alone become a trilogy. The Year of the Flood came out before I got a kindle, which I think was around 2009 or 2010 so it's been a while. I loved both of those books, rereading Oryx and Crake once I read The Year of the Flood. Those two novels take place concurrently, with characters who weave in and out of each other's stories. Both novels end at the same scene. Fortunately, MaddAddam picks up with that moment, or a bit after, and propels the story forward. There's a helpful breakdown of the plot from the other two books in the beginning of MaddAddam to remind the reader of what's happening. The basic story takes place in the future, where science has taken people to crazy new lengths (pigs that are bred to carry human body parts for organ transplants and become super intelligent) and corporations create compounds where the wealthy live. The rest of society lives out in the pleebands where crime and poverty run rampant. A genius named Crake looked at the world and decided that people were not worth saving. He designed a pill called BlyssPluss that wiped out the majority of the population. He also created new bioforms, referred to as the Crakers, who are designed to be better people. The first book focuses on Jimmy, Crake's best friend, who was unknowingly given the vaccine for the pill, allowing him to live as the caretaker for the Crakers. The second book focuses on Ren, a former girlfriend of Jimmy's who grew up in the pleebands (unlike Jimmy, who was raised in a compound) with a group called the God's Gardeners. The two novels go back and forth in time, focusing on first the current time, post-disease and the past as Jimmy (and Ren) grow up.

MaddAddam followed a similar construct. In the present, Toby, a former God's Gardener/friend of Ren's (whose story was also revealed in The Year of the Flood), is living with some former God's Gardeners, as well as people referred to as MaddAddamites, scientists who worked with Crake to design the Crakers. The Crakers have relocated from the seaside to the nature preserve where they live. Life goes on, such as it is in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Toby fears that two escaped Painballers (criminals who survived Painball, an option to prison that sounds a lot like the Hunger Games) will come after them. She also worries about Jimmy, who has been in a coma since the end of the last book, as well as Amanda, viciously raped by the Painballers and accidentally sexually assaulted by the Craker men who thought she was ovulating (Crakers mate in a group atmosphere). Most of all, she struggles over her feelings for Zeb, the gruff former God's Gardener, who is one of the leaders of her ragtag group. Fortunately, Zeb returns her feelings and spends most of the novel telling her HIS story. 

Like the previous two books, this novel moves back and forth in time. Zeb was raised by a sadistic preacher father along with his half-brother Adam (who grows up to be Adam One). The two young men eventually escape from home, separate and hide out in the world, away from their dad. Zeb gains a wealth of different experiences and comes into contact with various people from the previous books like Pilar and a very young Crake. Zeb's story weaves into the present as the Crakers grow fascinated by him and Toby tells his life to them as a "bedtime story". The Crakers have turned Oryx and Crake into gods (a fascinating turn of events since Crake wanted to eradicate institutions like religions from the world with his purge) and idealize Zeb as well. There are some very funny misunderstandings with the Crakers, who address everyone as "Oh Toby" or "Oh Zeb". When they hear someone say "Oh, Fuck", they think Fuck is a person and Toby has to invent a story that Fuck is an invisible helper of Crake's. That cracked me up every time I read it.

Frankly, not much happens in this book. Like the other novels, I always wanted more from the present. Zeb's story is interesting and a good read but I always just wanted to find out how these little group would survive the world. I think I felt that way about the other books too, but it's been so long since I've read them. I really recommend reading all three consecutively because I know I missed a lot that I didn't remember from the other two novels. I enjoyed reading how Zeb got to be in the God's Gardeners and then how he showed up with this group but I was more satisfied with the climatic scenes at the end between the Painballers, the Pigoons (pigs with human intelligence) and the Gardeners/Crakers/Addamites. And there was a lovely and sad look at what came next for the group. One of the little Craker boys, Blackbeard, became fascinated by writing and learned how to read and write because of Toby, which of course leads to written history and perhaps religious doctrine, defeating the purpose of Crake's purge of humanity. 

Atwood creates incredibly three-dimensional, fascinating characters and a gripping story. It's a wonder that the flashbacks are as interesting (even though I wanted to stay in the present more) as the present day. Even though these books are probably classified as dystopia or sci-fi, really the stories are so well-written that I think most fiction readers would enjoy them. You can start with either Oryx or The Year of the Flood, although I recommend Oryx but definitely save MaddAddam for last. Someday, I really hope I have a chance to reread the whole thing to really appreciate the world that Atwood created.

NPR Review

Awesome essay about Crake's Attempted Utopia

Buy it at amazon and Barnes and Noble