Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Year of the Flood - Wendy's Review

This was not an ordinary pandemic: it wouldn’t be contained after a few hundred thousand deaths, then obliterated with biotools and bleach. This was the Waterless Flood the Gardeners so often had warned about. It had all the signs: it traveled through the air as if on wings, it burned through cities like fire, spreading germ-ridden mobs of terror and butchery. The lights were going out everywhere, and now the news was fading away; systems were failing as their keepers died. It spelled total breakdown which was why she’d needed the rifle. Rifles had been illegal for years, but laws were no longer a factor. – from The Year of the Flood, page 18 of the ARC -

The year is far in the future, a time when animals are becoming extinct at a rate faster than people can document, and the level of pollution requires individuals to don nose cones in order to go outside. The government is horribly corrupt – creating weird animals like liobams (part lamb, part lion) and embedding diseases into vitamin supplements. Criminals are either executed or sent to serve months “playing” Painball, a deadly form of today’s paintball.

Welcome to Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian novel which serves as a prequel to her previous work Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood takes place roughly during the same time period as Oryx and Crake, but jumps back and forth from the post-pandemic months and the years leading up to the disaster. Jimmy (Snowman) makes a reappearance in The Year of the Flood, but the main characters are two women – Toby and Ren. The novel is narrated first in Toby’s voice then in Ren’s, alternating chapters to provide significant background on not only the state of the world, but each woman’s personal story as well.

The heroes of the novel are members of a (mostly) pacifist, eco-friendly group called the Gardeners. Headed up by a Christ-like man called Adam One, the Gardeners rescue people off the streets (and from morally reprehensible lives), prohibit meat eating of any kind, document the animals being lost to extinction, and work underground to gain information about the various corrupt practices of the government. Both Toby and Ren become members of the Gardeners – Toby as a healer and eventually one of the Eves (female members who take on a leadership role in the group), and Ren who joins the group as a child.

Nobody does dystopian literature better than Atwood – and in The Year of the Flood she provides complex female characters who are faced with futuristic horrors which involve women as sexual tools for men, plenty of violence, and lots of cynicism. There is also Atwood’s signature sense of humor embedded in the story which is often graphic while exploring serious subjects such as pandemics, government corruption, and loss of our natural resources.

I love Margaret Atwood’s writing. I am always astonished by the brilliance of her prose and her ability to tell an engrossing story. But The Year of the Flood is not without its faults. I could have lived without the insertion of Adam One’s sermons and song lyrics from the Gardener’s “hymn” book. I also felt the ending was rather abrupt and left the reader wondering what the future held for the characters (in this way, it was a lot like Oryx and Crake).In some ways, I felt Atwood wrote the ending to connect the novel to Oryx and Crake – it felt a bit contrived.

Despite its faults, The Year of the Flood will appeal to readers who enjoy an engaging dystopian tale and who have read and liked Atwood’s previous work. I would be interested to see if Atwood is planning a third book in the series…and if so, where she might take her characters next.

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