All life may not be a matter of taste; but issues of taste loom large if you’re concocting a narrative about the end of the world. In the prints of Piranesi, the paintings of John Martin, certain architectural drawings rumoured to have been made to the designs of Albert Speer sixty years ago and, more recently (and with surprisingly little alteration), the big-budget Hollywood apocalypto-blockbuster, the effect striven for has generally tended towards a kind of diseased monumentality: the clapped-out sublime. Kicked-in cupolas, ivy-girt collieries, eroded inscriptions in choked cemeteries – all remind us of what was, even as they caution us against vanity; all the while looking, if not quite beautiful, then ruggedly handsome.
Margaret Atwood’s trilogy, which began with Oryx and Crake in 2003, continued with The Year of the Flood in 2009 and concludes with this book, is different. She’s not big on the sense of place. Indeed the chain of catastrophes – environmental, economic, epidemiological – that has beset the planet