Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The Year of the Flood
Last week I made an attempt to tell a friend what Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood: A Novel is about. She would probably tell you I wasn't very successful. I can hardly think of another book that I've read in its entirety that is so difficult to describe. But I will try, and at the very least hope to give my thoughts on this novel.
We know from the outset the Apocalypse has come for the human race. We also know that two women have survived, Ren and Toby. Ren has survived because she is locked inside a bizarre sex club where she worked. Toby has survived in a fancy spa, where the treatments are edible and she has horded food. Ren and Toby knew each other once, when they lived with the God's Gardener's, a green-burlap wearing-vegetarian group of people who try to preserve plant life, keep bees, and whose leader has predicted what is now happening. The Flood is a waterless one, and the story goes back and forth, telling the stories of Ren and Toby before and after the flood.
The period after the Flood overlaps with what Atwood fans know happened in Oryx and Crake. Because of this, we readers sometimes know more than Ren and Toby. In other instances the characters in this book clear up what we didn't understand about what was happening in O&C. Where O&C is the story inside the corporations, this is the story of what happened to everyone on the outside and what life had been like there. I loved seeing the characters from O&C in another light - they do appear here - in fact, the number of coincidences here where characters happened to know each other almost became silly.
I think a big question is: Do you need to have read Oryx and Crake to read this book? I'm going to say that if you're interested in this book, it would be to your benefit to read O&C first. Not only does the back story help, but enough is given away in The Year of the Flood that it would ruin O&C quite a bit.
My friend asked me if I enjoyed this book. I cannot really say that this is a book that you will 'like' or 'enjoy'. It is devastating and horrible, yet at the same time often hopeful. It is bizarre and even funny, in that disturbing way that Atwood is. It was a treat to immerse myself in this world that I already knew about, and learn more about Atwood's vision. It's just very Atwood - can I say Atwoodian - is that a word yet? It's totally her, so if you think she's fabulous, then this is for you.