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The Year of the Flood is the sequel to the brilliant Oryx and Crake and although we are on familiar ground with Atwood creating a bleak, post-apocalyptic, futuristic backdrop, the novel feels fresh and exciting. The story revolves around two female characters, Toby and Ren, who believe themselves to be some of the only survivors of a natural disaster. The voices of the two women are strong and convincing, evoking both interest in their plight and lives and sympathy for their situation. Atwood creates a strange world full of unusual, imaginative detail that is eerily and worryingly believable. Atwood's narrative has the potential to shock, excite and amuse in equal turn but the non-eventful story does move along a little slowly for my taste. If you are a devoted Atwood fan then this book is an essential read. If however you want a story that has more twists and turns then perhaps you should give this very well written book a miss.
This is a review of the 2009 novel by Margaret Atwood titled 'The year of the flood'. I'm a big fan of Atwell's literature, it's always original and makes you think about life and the world as we know and understand it. The Year of the Flood lives up to Atwoods usual standards and kept me page turning through the 516 pages.
A little about the story
This book takes some of the characters from Atwood's post apocalyptic book Oryx and Crake published in 2003 and delves deeper into the mysterious world of the cult group named 'the gardeners' the world is different now, and dated year 25. Science plays a big part in food and technology and lead characters Ren and Tony tell their story of how they came to believe they are both the last woman alive on earth.
Sounds a bit weird?
Well frankly, yes, it is weird and yet it's strangely compelling. Ren is a strip club dancer in an isolation unit due to a bite from one of her clients and Toby is an earth mother holed up in a beauty spa. Both are barely existing and living on their memories and meagre subsidence that they have stored up and eked out.
About the cult
The Gardeners are a gentle and peaceful bunch, strict vegetarians and they are keen to educate their children, the next generation in how to survive the imminent 'waterless flood' that they believe is coming. Their knowledge is vast and the cult leaders, known as 'adams and eves' have immense community connections and try to provide a safe environment that is protected for all their members.
Margaret Atwood manages to create a whole new world in this book, a world which distrusts computers and looks at genetic 'splices' of animals and a place where it's not unusual for people who are troublemakers or unwanted to disappear. The ethical group of Gardeners value recycling and abhor waste and their are serious messages in the text that we shouldn't ignore in this life.
Between the chapters are almost religious sections from the Gardeners, who believe in God and have sermons and hymns. At the end of the book the author directs us to a website to listen to the hymns being sung to music - I found these parts of the book a bit distracting and tedious and although they helped tell the tale and set more context, I enjoyed reading Toby and Ren's chapters more than the sermons and hymns. I can understand how it worked in the context of the book though.
I loved this book and read it far too fast! The book provides real escapism and is quite scary in parts when you wonder what's going to happen ultimately to the lead characters and other faces that are mentioned throughout. I'm sure it won't be to everyone's taste but if you are willing to extend your disbelief and like to challenge yourself in your reading matter, you won't go far wrong with this book.
The Year of the Flood tells the eery tale of two women who have survived a 'waterless flood' - a fast spreading plague some time in the future. Each woman is alone and isolated, trying to survive as best they can with no knowledge of any others that have survived. They have known each other in the past, and through descriptions of the memories of each the reader slowly pieces together how each came to survive and discovers the world in which they live.
The world that Atwood creates is one that is dangerous and unfamiliar yet alarmingly real to us. The reader feels that this story is not so far removed from what could actually happen - it is a world where mankind has taken the Earth for granted and let greed and power take over. Many species are spoken of as extinct and the world is governed by a number of 'Corps' that appear to have total control.
So is it any good? The book certainly makes you think, and provides interesting and like-able characters through which to look at the attitudes of mankind. The world created is fantastic and Atwood describes it through the views of the two women excellently. However, some may say that the plot is somewhat lacking in substance. It is slightly predictable at times, and the reader is left to fill in many gaps - particularly at the end of the book. The timeline can also be confusing.
This said, 'The Year of the Flood' is an enjoyable read and offers an interesting and fresh perspective. It is certainly worth a read!
'The Year of the Flood' tells of a bleak future in which the majority of humanity has been eradicated by a plague and serves as a warning for what rampant consumption of Earth's resources could lead to. It is filled with Atwood's skill at describing the human condition, painted on a dystopic background and here she has created something terrifyingly realistic and moving.
Each chapter is prefaced with a sermon and hymn from the God's Gardeners, a hippy-ish cult, determined to restore the Earth by living in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. These toe a fine line between being irritating and patronising or as interesting titbits into the dogma of the Gardener's. The chapters are either then told from a 3rd person perspective surrounding Toby, a former gardener waiting out the apocalypse in a health spa, or the younger Ren, who provides a lighter counter part to Toby's grim practicality.
The split narrative is incredibly effective at creating the desolate feel to this world as each is unaware of the other's existence. Whilst the women have much shared history, it is interesting to see their very different outlooks on this 'cleansed' world and give the new reality Atwood's characteristic human, believable touch. Unfortunately, this combined with the confusing chronology, can mean it is a hard book to come back to. Thankfully, it is a compelling enough read for this not to be an issue but the book definitely demands the readers care and attention.
The plot assembles itself in patches, revealed through the histories of Ren and Toby. For some, it will seem that the book lacks drive and the reader is stuck waiting for something, much like Ren and Toby, but the characterisation and back story is so compelling that it never feels that nothing is actually taking place. Whilst this book is hardly a sequel to 'Oryx and Crake' and it is hardly required reading for this book, there are nice little gems as you see the entwining from plots and characters in that with 'The Year of the Flood.' It adds another element of complexity to the book and is a nice treat for readers.
This book provides a wonderfully human insight into the idea of climate change and global disaster, which is all too often lost sight of in a sea of statistics, and Atwood has created a grotesquely beautiful read. This novel seems much less far-fetched than 'Oryx and Crake,' despite sharing the same world, and as a result is a hugely important read for modern times. Whilst the bleak despair she presents us with is not always enjoyable, this is a very worthwhile book and an effective way of reminding us about the situation of our own planet.
This story opens in the aftermath of an environmental disaster, and is told from the viewpoints of two women who have survived, but are so isolated that they cannot be sure that anyone else has. Ren tells her own story in the first person, while we learn about Toby through a third person narrative. Although this might seem to make Ren's story seem more immediate and bring her character closer to the reader than that of Toby, it also has the effect of making Toby's thoughts and reflections appear to somehow be more authoritative.
Both women have spent a lot of their lives until recently living as part of an alternative community, a commune called "God's Gardeners" and the Ren/Toby narratives are also interspersed with speeches, or perhaps sermons, from the leader of the group to other members, and hymns. God's Gardeners are trying to establish self-sufficiency and living in a way which will not be at the expense of the planet, giving up on modern conveniences such as the mobile phone. Both Ren and Toby came to live with the community in circumstances which were not of their choosing, though, and have struggled to fit in. They are also very aware of the inconsistencies and flaws of community members and their actions.
The Year of the Flood can be described as a kind of sequel to Oryx and Crake, published in 2003. It is set after the catastrophe and many of the same characters appear in some way - Ren and her friend Amanda are portrayed through Snowman's memories of his past. I found The Year of the Flood much more engaging though. I could recognise the high quality of the writing in Oryx and Crake and found Atwood's vision of what might happen really frightening. One aspect of reading a novel I enjoy is the interaction between characters, and in that story other characters are only portrayed in the main character's memory; for all he knows, he is the only surviving human. In The Year of the Flood, I found Ren and Toby both much more sympathetic characters, and although Ren and Toby also spend most of the present day narrative of the book alone, I was drawn in by their stories and their hopes for some sort of survival.
I also liked the portrayal of the alternative ways of life in this novel.
Although I admit I would personally find the God's Gardeners option very hard, and the author through her heroines does show quite a critical perspective on this group, the other choices in the novel seem much grimmer. Capitalism is embodied in CorpSeCorps, the company which has gradually taken over all sorts of things including a lot of the functions of the state, and its workings are deeply sinister. Toby's mother worked selling health supplements but they were unable to save her when she became ill, and nor were the privatised clinics run by her employer Helth Wyzer. For those in this society who do not have the dubious privileges of employment and life controlled by the corporation, there is the scary life of the street kids, contemptuously described as pleebrats by God's Gardeners (commune members are not immune to snobbery.
A lot of The Year of the Flood is told through flashbacks and memories of how Ren and Toby have ended up where they are, but the novel is also held together and driven forward by the present day suspense of their situation. Will they be able to get out into the outside world and make a new life for themselves in the aftermath of the disaster? Will they find each other or other survivors? These questions, and lots of others, help to keep turning the pages and find out what has happened and where the story will go next. I think this more obvious storyline also makes the novel a more attractive read than Oryx and Crake.
The Year of the Flood is a complex novel and I think I would like to reread it and that I would get more out of doing so, maybe in conjunction with a reread of Oryx and Crake.
The Year of the Flood has a cover price of £18.99 in hardback. Amazon is currently selling it for £12.76. I made a library reservation and will probably buy my own copy when it comes out in paperback next summer, as I already want to reread it.
Update October 2011: The Year of the Flood is now available in paperback, and on Kindle.