Wednesday, September 23, 2009

a review of "The Year of the Flood"

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
(Nan A. Talese, ISBN 978-0385528771)

Adam One, the leader of the quasi-religious eco-cult caller God's Gardeners, had long predicted the coming of a plague, a Waterless Flood that would destroy all human life and as the story begins, it seems that he has been proven right.
We meet our two heroines, the older, tougher Toby and Ren, a worker in an upscale sex club. Both find themselves, through peculiar circumstances, still alive after what turns out to be a bio-engineered virus sweeps through. In the midst of the horror of the dead, each wonders if they are only person alive and yet also fearing who else, what else, might be out there.

As the story progresses, the chapters move back and forth in time and we learn how these two women came to be where they are. Society, in this future that Atwood speculates about, is bizarre and disturbing, maybe most of all because it is not totally unbelievable. There appears to be no government. The Corporations and their brutal security force, the CorpSEcorps, control the more upscale compounds where science and technology and 'progress' have become the new gods, resulting in all sorts of lovely bio-engineered creatures. Like liobams, the cross between a lion and know the whole lion lays down with the lamb idea...that looks so cute and fuzzy...until they rip your throat out. Or pigs with human brain tissue. Ok, there have been some problems with some of the experiments.

Outside the compounds you have the pleeblands, violent and lawless, where the cultish God's Gardeners reside yet attempt to rise above it all. Both figuratively and literary, since they live on rooftops, easier to defend, raising their gardens and preaching and planning how to survive the flood that will soon come. We learn the backstories of Toby and Ren, both at times dreadful, sad stories, both tied to the God's Gardeners, and both, in their own ways, showing us how they became survivors. Because that is what they both are, survivors, and in the later part of the book we explore, if not totally resolve, what being a survivor in this new world, this world after the Flood, may mean.

Without question, Atwood writes from a certain ideological point of view and if you have read my reviews before, you might have noticed that I hate a heavy handed, preachy novel. Especially if the views it is preaching differs from my But happily, Atwood is a much better writer than that. Everyone, every view, to some degree, is subjected to Atwood's witty and often very amusing treatment. Because yes, this book, while often violent and even gross, is also often very funny and witty. And ultimately, she wraps it all into what I found to be a quite entertaining and compelling story. Also a story with some great characters. A well written, engaging plot, some well defined, affecting characters and the exploration of some interesting questions, all makes for a book that I totally enjoyed. She creates a disturbing and thought provoking image of a future world, an image that may well remain with you long after you have finished enjoying this entertaining book.

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  1. I am almost embarassed to say that I've never read any Atwood. Most would say I am missing out on something important! I need to get her name on a reading challenge somewhere, so I can help myself find some motivation!

  2. I haven't read any Atwood either. From the reviews I've read I think I'll either love it or not understand it.

  3. This is the first one of Atwood's books that I have read, although I have always heard of her as a modern 'must read'. After I read this one, I bought a copy of Oryx and Crake, which is sort of a companion piece from what I have read. Oddly enough, it is still in my TBR pile. (hmmm...what is bigger than a pile?)

    I don't know about the other books, but this is certainly an accessible one. although I would agree Kathy that it is one, I think, that people would either love or hate.

  4. I've read The Handmaid's Tale and also The Penelopiad. The latter was fabulous, though not exactly representative.

    The former was also really good, definitely one of the best dystopian novels I've ever read. But one thing I didn't like was that it actually felt creepy and disturbing--it was nothing like our real world, but I was sort of glad to stop reading it because she was so successful at pulling me in and leaving me upset. So, I'm not totally sure I'd want to read one of her darker books again...but then, I did think it was very good.

  5. why wasn't The Penelopiad representative? gosh, now I will have to do some research. lol

  6. Sorry, should have was written as part of the Canongate "Myths" series (which is great, btw, if you're interested in mythology). So, she's telling the story of Penelope while Odysseus is away, and there are verse sections as well as prose. So it's not quite a traditional novel, and she's somewhat constrained as to plot.

  7. Great review. I liked the book a lot and for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. You did a great job outlining the plot- my review was a little light on plot description! :-)

  8. I have read Handmaid's Tale which I thought was great and The Blind Assassin which was okay. I really liked your review of this book, Caite. I'v reading several different reviews of this book some like it a lot some don't but all seem to have some very definite, strong opinions. Still, I'm not sure if I'm going to read it. I like that you said it's witty, Caite, that sways me more towards reading it.

  9. nicole, not sure that is my cup of tea, but then I often surprise myself.

    Thank you Marie, even though of course your review was great, as your review always are. And thank you for your Atwood roundup in your post!

    Amy, I admit a weakness for dystopian novels. Which most likely adds to why I liked this book. It might not be everyone's cup of tea. I could see how readers might be split on this one, even if they should love

  10. After "Handmaid's Tale" and one other by her, I kind of let Ms. Atwood slide but now you are convincing me to give her another go.

    Guess I better use my LibraryThing wishlist feature!!!

  11. See Jenners! aren't you glad you read about the wishlist now?

  12. I saw this book around, and almost picked it up, but then realised it's the second in a "trilogy". I know the book's supposed to stand independently, but, I'll try reading it in order.

    Thanks for the review - it pushes Oryx & Crake ahead on my reading pile.

  13. anothercookie, I think these two books are more parallel stories, or maybe even different views of the same story, rather than either being a sequal to the other. I have not read Oryx and Crake yet, and I can assure you it is not necessary to 'get' this one.

  14. I haven't read Atwood for years, but would like to pick up THE YEAR OF THE FLOODS.

    I so connected to your last paragraph - I don't like a heavy-handed, preachy book ... but her writing (in the books I've read) is so brilliant that I'd happily take a sermon!


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