Friday, January 15, 2010

"The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood

Summary: Set in the same apocalyptic world as Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood follows Ren and Toby, two women who have also survived Crake’s destruction of humankind.  Toby, who has been living in a spa, and Ren, who has survived inside a high class strip club, recall their time in the religious group God's Gardeners and the events that led up to their present situations.

Musings: The Year of the Flood is structured the same as Oryx and Crake as events in the present are frequently interrupted with flashbacks of the women’s lives pre-apocalypse.  One of the most intriguing parts of reading this kind of dystopian literature is learning about the society that the author has created.  In this case, the society is the same as the one in Oryx and Crake, so there’s little new to discover there.  Instead, Atwood’s newest novel relies on the strength of the characters’ stories and journeys.

I was a little distracted by the fact that both women had what I would consider boys’ names (I wasn’t sure why), but both women are interesting characters.  Snowman/Jimmy, the protagonist of Oryx and Crake, is a pitiful and despairing character at the best of times, barely able to maintain his sanity.  Ren and Toby, on the other hand, weather the destruction with an eye toward survival and safety.  They're inherently more optimistic characters, which gives the novel a much more positive tone than its predecessor.

Much of the narrative concerns the women’s time with God's Gardeners, a strict vegetarian religious group that combines science, environmentalism, and religion.  The group is not particularly unique (undoubtedly similar groups exist or have existed), and Atwood seems to strongly support its teachings.  In fact, I was surprised at how positively the group’s religion was portrayed throughout the book--there's little to criticize about the group's teachings, but I didn't expect Atwood to present it in such a uniformly positive light.

Although the novel begins with only passing reference to specific things in Oryx and Crake (both God's Gardeners and MaddAddam make early appearances in both), as the novel progresses, more and more connections are made between the characters in both, perhaps to a point of contrivance.  By the end of the novel so many characters been implausibly reunited that the novel loses some of its realistic tone.

The Year of the Flood is, on the whole, a significantly more hopeful book than Oryx and Crake, and it suggests that humanity is less doomed than perhaps previously imagined.  Although The Year of the Flood could be read as a stand alone novel, the novel would be significantly clearer to those who are familiar with Oryx and Crake.

Update, 11:49am
 Just came across this at Marelisa's "54 Tips For Writers, From Writers" and loved it:
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood 


  1. I read this one without having read Oryx and Crake and it really does work on its own. From my point of view, nothing was really unclear, but I'm sure it was a much richer reading experience for you.

    I thought this one was okay - maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I'd read the first one, but I'm not so sure. I'm about the least prudish person on the planet, but I thought the constant presence of sex was a little bit overkill. It really felt like every single chapter, sex or discussions of sex were being had. Sure, when one character is a prostitute it makes sense for her to be pre-occupied with it, but since everyone was thinking about/talking about/doing it, it became annoying and certainly made it harder for characters to stand apart from my point of view.

  2. That's interesting--I didn't notice the general pervasiveness of sex while I was reading it, although I was struck by the intense violent nature of the sex. I don't think there was a single positive representation of sex where both parties were happy in the end. It was a topic the God's Gardeners seemed to avoid while, as you pointed out, the characters were often preoccupied with it. Not sure what to make of that.