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.