Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I typically shy away from dystopian novels. But Margaret Atwood being the author she is, her books always manage to slip under my defenses. More impressively, she makes me care about her characters and the dystopian world she's created. Although I haven't read Oryx and Crake, the first book, I picked up the middle book of the MaddAddam trilogy, The Year of the Flood, after letting it languish on my shelves literally for years and quickly found myself pulled into yet another of her inventive and disturbing worlds.

Two women, Ren and Toby, find themselves accidental survivors of the long predicted waterless flood that has devastated a future Earth. While most of the rest of the population succumbed to a horrific plague, Ren was safe from the ravages, locked away in quarantine in the sex club where she worked as a trapeze dancer. Toby survived at a spa, luckily stocked with lots of natural edible products intended for the wealthy. As the two of them separately set about the uncertain work of survival, the narrative shifts between the present of their predicament and their pasts. Both women were once members of God's Gardeners, a religion striving to minimize the hurt we cause the earth and revering the early harbingers of what must come, the environmentalists, the activists, and those who intentionally tread lightly on the earth. Run by the beneficent and peaceful seeming Adam One, God's Gardeners prepare for the apocalypse of the waterless flood, cultivate small patches of earth, eschew meat, and live without modern technology in the pleebland slums of their unnamed cities.

Outside of the God's Gardeners, technology has taken over. The government is bought and sold, consumerism is rampant, and no one, or almost no one, can outrun the corporation that controls everything. Corporate biotech and genetic engineering rules the world, from splicing unrelated creatures together to manufacturing pleasure and pain, creating questionable drugs to synthesizing unidentifiable food. The world before the flood is bleak and horrific. The world after the flood is empty but incredibly dangerous. As Toby and Ren realize what has happened and what they have to do if they not only want to continue to survive but to find out if anyone they care for has also survived, they are more fettered than they have ever been but also somehow more free to direct their own destinies.

Atwood has created a world like ours on steroids. It is terrifying and horrible, an object lesson on our own excesses, a condemnation of rampant science without checks or balances, a disregard for consequences. Each chapter starts with a simple hymn, sermon, or explanation of a saint from Adam One or the God's Gardeners, pointing the reader to the tenets of their faith and of the way the earth has been plundered beyond all recognition. The narration alternates between Ren in the first person and Toby in the third, allowing for both a very intensely personal narration and a more measured broader look at the world both before and after the flood. It is a little too coincidental that characters whose run-ins before the flood are pivotal would continue to cross paths afterwards, especially given the nature of their interactions. The ending of the novel is very much unresolved, which is the only reason I would say the novel doesn't quite stand on its own apart from the MaddAddam trilogy. But Atwood can create a world like no one else so having to read the other two books to fill in the blanks left by this one to find out the fate of human beings will certainly be no hardship.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the third one ends with stuff unresolved, which makes sense as the books are about the characters and the world, and the plot isn't all that central. I liked the third one the best, I think.


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