The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my local library.

The Year of the Flood is a companion novel to Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, published in 2003.  In that first novel we are introduced to a world where mega-corporations have taken control of the entire planet, and genetic and bio engineering have run rampant.

In Oryx and Crake we follow the main character, Jimmy, known as Snowman, as he stumbles through a world devastated by a catastrophic pandemic. It is a world populated by transgenic animals and genetically engineered humans named after their creator, and Jimmy’s best friend, the brilliant Crake.   Through Jimmy’s wandering thoughts and dreams we learn  of  his relationship with Crake, their connection with a woman named Oryx and some of the history of the destroyed environment.  We find that Crake has left Jimmy as a guardian for his genetically engineered  “Crakers”.  At the very end of the book Jimmy stumbles upon people at a campfire, humans like himself, and we are left to imagine what actions Jimmy will take.

The Year of the Flood open in Year 25, and through varied flashback we are given bits of information about the “waterless flood”, a virulent pandemic. This world is much more developed then the one in Oryx and Crake. We hear the voices of several main characters, some carried forward from the first novel.   We learn more about  “God’s Gardeners”, the Corporations and their security arm CorpSeCorps.

The story is mainly told by two women who have survived the “flood”, Toby and Ren.  Through happy accidents they were sequestered away and watch as the flood demolishes most of the people around them.  The world is nasty and violent in the extreme and the two women struggle to survive, all the while hoping to connect with those they have lost.  They struggle to find food and protect themselves from the sun and the weather.  Most of the male characters are not fully developed, they are hollow, egotistical and violent.  The genetically enhanced and modified animals end up surviving and multiplying.  Plant life abounds, buildings fall apart. In the end Toby and Ren do survive, meet up and travel away from the human constructed enclaves, to the sea, where they run into Jimmy, a person out of the past.

I found Atwood’s eco-religious “God’s Gardeners”  fascinating.  There are meditations presented by their leader, Adam One, sprinkled throughout the novel, sounding like sermons given by a dedicated priest,  hymns to saints like Carson and Chico Mendes and Feast Days devoted to animals and trees.  There is even a CD of the hymns. These creations, as well as Atwood’s extrapolations from present day scientific and corporate developments are the bones of this novel, what gave it depth for me.

April Fish – Year Fourteen

Please join me now in a meditation on our Fish brethren.

Dear God, you who created the great and wide Sea, with its creatures innumerable: we pray that You hold in your gaze those who dwell in Your underwater Garden, in which life originated; and we pray that none may vanish from the Earth by Human agency.  Let Love and aid be brought to the Sea Creatures in their present peril and great suffering; which comes to them from the warming of the Sea, and through the dragging of nets and hooks along the bottom of it, and through the slaughtering of all within it, from the Creatures of the shallows to the Creatures of the depths, the Giant Squid included; and remember your Whales, that you created on the fifth day, and set in the Sea to play therein; and help especially the Sharks, that misunderstood and much-persecuted breed.

We hold in our minds the Great Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico; and the Great Dead Zone in Lake Erie;  and the Great Dead Zone in the Black Sea; and the desolate Grand Banks of Newfoundland, where the Cod once abounded; and the Great Barrier Reef, now dying and bleaching white and breaking apart.

Let the come to Life again; let Love shine upon them and restore them; and let us be forgiven for our oceanic murders; and for our foolishness, when it is the wrong kind of foolishness; for in Your sight, we are all mute and foolish.

Let us sing. From page 196/197.

Atwood has always refused to call The Handmaiden’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and now The Year of the Flood “science fiction”, instead preferring the less genre specific “speculative fiction”.  This has something to do with what is considered “literary” fiction, what will be reviewed by “critics” and short-listed for prizes.  The Year of the Flood is science fiction in my mind, but then so is 1984, Brave New World, A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Road. In the everyday world of  the reader these genre boundaries have begun to blur, and will continue to do so.

I liked both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but I enjoyed the second novel more because I think Atwood took more time developing her world, got deeper into its reality. I appreciate Atwood’s intelligence, her searing sarcasm and her anger but think these things may sometimes get in her way.  I found depth in the “God’s Gardeners” because she did.

By sheer coincidence I am reading another book that covers lots of the same fictional territory as The Year of the Flood. It is classified as science fiction and I will review it soon.

Other reviews:

A Progressive on the Prairie

Boston Bibliophile

Fantasy Book Critic

Shelf Love


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge3, Review, SciFi, SciFi Challenge, Uncategorized

17 responses to “The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

  1. Can you believe I’ve never read Atwood? I keep saying I need to do so, just to be able to call myself a bibliophile. I may start with this one…it has gotten pretty good reviews!

    • Sandy – The Year of The Flood is a good book, but different than her other work. You might want to start with Alias Grace or the Blind Assassin.

  2. I got as far as checking Oryz and Crake out of the library, but then I bailed out. It just didn’t seem like my kind of book. I am not a sci-fi fan, no matter how many “classics” of the genre I try. O&C just seemed too bleak for me.

  3. I can’t wait to get my copy of this sometime soon! I’ve been an Atwood fan for years though I haven’t read her lately (well, the last time was for Oryx and Crake which I enjoyed a lot).

  4. I must read this! And Oryx and Crake. Regardless of how much her statements about science fiction make me roll my eyes, I really do love Atwood.

    • Yeah, I find the science fiction thing kind of silly and pretentious. I do believe that readers and authors are blurring those old boundries. Just watching what is happening in YA fiction is terribly exciting.

  5. I loved Handmaid’s Tale but so far haven’t been able to get very far into any of Atwood’s other books. I think maybe you have to be in a special Atwood mood. :P

  6. Gavin, I think you’re right that sometimes Atwood’s anger gets in her way – one thing I felt about this novel is that it sometimes felt like the story was put on the backburner so that she could rant, which I think was unfortunate. So much of what she says felt heavyhanded, that I think her point would have come across loud and clear even if she had stuck to simply telling the story of the two women. I’m not saying that her message isn’t important, just that this is fiction, so maybe she should focus on that aspect of it all; after all, I tend to think Atwood is at her best when exploring women and their relationships and struggles.

    • Steph – You said very clearly what I was thinking about Oryx and Crake. That heavyhanded tone is still there in The Year of the Flood, but there are parts where the story just flows, as if Atwood got out of her own way. Does that make sense?

      Even though I am no longer religious I really enjoyed the “God’s Gardeners” sections because I felt Atwood thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing with them.

  7. I must read this. (Apparently the organic movement didn’t get very far in this world.)

    Interesting that you felt that the male characters weren’t that well-developed. Oryx and Crake kind of had the opposite problem: the only main female character is Oryx, who I didn’t think was well-developed at all. She was just this exotic, distant, beautiful woman.

    I’ve considered The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s always sounded too over-the-top and far-fetched for me.

  8. I have this in the TBR pile…trouble is, it’s competing with too many other books right now!

  9. I read The Year of the Flood when it first came out in September, and have just gone back and re-read Oryx and Crake. I agree with you that I enjoyed TYotF better than O&C. Apparently there is going to be a third book to complete the “Maddadam Trilogy” – I just hope that she doesn’t keep us waiting another 6 years for it!

  10. Oryx and Crake has been suggested several times so it’s on my reading list and seems I may be adding Year of the Flood on there too. Thanks for joining the SF challenge.

  11. Dani

    the moment I finished reading Oryx and Crake and heard there was a “sequel” I immediately got my hands on it, Year of the Flood. I just finished it today. It does give the world mentioned in O and C so much more dimension… for example I had no idea God’s Gardeners was so significant when I read the first book, or characters like Amanda and “Brenda”. I didn’t like it as much as O and C though because Jimmy was a much livelier narrator than Ren. But anyway. I have to say that I’m still confused: how come so many MaddAdam people survived?? Didn’t Jimmy say the virus Crake cooked up was airborne? I kinda feel bad for Crake because his super plan failed on so many levels (so much for wiping out all humans you know, haha).

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