on 29 September 2009
A companion novel to "Oryx and Crake", "The Year of the Flood" goes back to characters we have met before - and redraws them. This is a re-seeing, another side of the same story, with people we thought we knew now re-assessed. Same world. Same disaster. Same mastery of detail and despair and dry humour and love of language (does anyone actually write the language better?). But it's a different book, with the lead characters now female, and the madness more social than internal.
Marilynne Robinson recently revisited Gilead and re-told the same story from another character's perspective as Home; I enjoyed Home, but found the second version only lived as a shadow of the original Gilead. Here, Margaret Atwood's second visit to the same story often outshines the original - but perhaps I mean she has made the original more palatable. The hymns and songs of hope that are scattered throughout have their own humour, but also lift the general despair, and push towards a more positively human outcome than Oryx often allowed.
I was left unsettled; a good thing; needing to come back and read the book again; another good thing; but not able to face it quite yet.
on 7 December 2009
I would strongly advise reading Oryx and Crake before this book (or re-reading, as I did, to remind myself of the characters and events). I'm not sure how it would read for someone who hadn't read the first novel, however it works very well as a 'sequel' - most of the events are taking place in parallel with those in Oryx and Crake, but from the points of view of different characters, so we get to see a much wider cross-section of the fictional society and not just the rather artificial and sheltered environment of the 'Compounds'. There's also an uncomfortable sense of impending disaster, as this time we know the nature of the 'flood' that's going to devastate the world.
I was happy to find that this book provides an explanation for the puzzling and abrupt ending of 'Oryx and Crake', though anyone expecting to have a 'proper' unambigious ending this time with all loose ends tied up will be disappointed. We also get a bit more insight into the actions and motives of 'Crake', but he's still very much a shadowy, elusive figure - as much a mystery for the other characters as for the reader - despite his actions being absolutely central to the plot of both books.
on 15 October 2009
Having been so gripped by the ideas (and to a lesser extent the characters) in Oryx and Crake that I chose it as a set text that year for the A-level English Lit group I was teaching, it is like being given a present by Atwood to read The Year of the Flood now.
I am enjoying reinvigorating my understanding of and reactions to the ideas presented in Oryx and Crake and Atwood does add to those ideas here as well as repeat them: for instance, in The Year of the Flood we witness direct communication between a young Crake (Glenn) and the Gardeners (albeit obscurely), which gives us more of an understanding of Crake's motives than Oryx and Crake can do on its own.
Yes, this is an overtly political book, as most futuristic novels are; to those who think fiction should restrict itself to 'stories' without meddling in politics - are not all narratives inextricably tied to their social and historical contexts, whether the reader recognises them or not? Are not all important ideas political eventually? What makes this book important is that, like other dystopian narratives such as Brave New World, 1984 and even Atwood's own The Handmaid's Tale, it uses fiction as a screen on which to project our sometimes discordant values and gives us a chance to have a good look at them.
on 23 November 2009
I actually downloaded this book as an audiobook and was hooked from the first moment I listen to it. I listened to it for hours in the house, walking to work, on the train... anywhere I could get away with it. I love Atwood's books and am an avid fan of her work anyway, but this is a very clever creation of an apocalypic world. I thought the characters very believable and well thought out, those periphery characters did not need to be developed anymore than they were (in my opinion). With perhaps the exception of Zeb and Glenn, as these are quite important characters - there again the book is told from the point of view of the 2 main characters Ren and Toby so we understand as much of Zeb and Glenn as these characters do themselves.
In the audiobook the songs as actually sung which is very weird and disconcerting at first, but actually allows you further into the apocalypic world of the gardeners.
I thoroughly recommend this to anyone who loves well created, intellegent and thought-provoking reading.
I think it would be wrong to say that The Year of the Flood is a sequel to the wonderful oryx and Crake; more, it is a sister novel (in more ways than one: as the first novel set two men trekking into a post-genetolyptic world, this one sets two women into it), which ends at roughly the same point. The two novels travel at right angels to one another and meet at a point.
A question I found myself asking all through this book was: what's the point of her visiting this again? I'm still not sure there is one. Apart from exploring the mindset and morals of "veggie-cults" in the instance of genetic dystopia (in this case the God's Gardeners cult who refuse to eat meet, preach an immenent cleansing "waterless flood", and sing hosannah's to all animal-life and its spirits), there's not much new ground covered here. If literature should be an exercise in illumination, there's not much new light shed here on anything the previous novel didn't cover. However: The Year of the Flood is still a wonderful book. I raced through it in just over a day. If you enjoyed Orxy and Crake, have no hesitation in buying this. If you didn't, then leave it on the shelf. If you've read neither, then you may as well begin with this one.
Atwood's writing is always a joy. The fun she has with words in new human landscapes is thrilling. And there is no doubt that this novel, while not thematically much different from the other, is an imaginative castle. It is clear that Atwood vastly enjoyed coming up with the God's Gardeners cult, imaginaing their rituals, morals, ways of communiating and believing. In fact, so much does that come through that I get the impression that that's the primary reason this book exists. That, and the fact that she feel so strongly about the issues within that she decided to tell us a second time.
I loved this book. As an clever entertainment, full of imagination, humanity and humour, it is probably much as good as you can get. Then, she normally is. We follow the two main characters' entry into the cult, their life within it, their eventual explusion as a result of outside forces, and then their eventual reunion in the decimated world. Their stories individually are fascinating, and the way they knit together is a wonderful example of pace and plotting.
You could argue that The Year of the Flood is superfulous, and you might be right, but that doens't stop it being great fun to read. I recommend this novel very highly. It is a very enjoyable read, and one that does not force you to consider the issues it stems from, but invites you to if you wish. Long live Margaret Atwood.
on 7 October 2010
I am a huge fan of Margaret Atwood's novels, particularly her first 2 'speculative' novels, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake but unfortunately I was slightly disappointed by The Year of the Flood. While it is an entertaining read, it was certaintly not as gripping as I was expecting, or indeed as it had the potential to be.
Oryx and Crake made beautifully smooth transitions from the past to the post apocolyptic present, simultaneously intreguing the reader in the characters and events leading up to the epidemic that has left humanity at the edge of extintion and also in Snowman's struggle to survive in this bleak future.
The Year of the Flood on the other hand is not nearly as captivating and I think that is partly because throughout the novel, we never actually find out anything new. The reader already knows why the situation is as it is at the outset and the characters involved in the story are merely bystanders. We do not even really find out anything interesting about the characters as the story progresses, there are no shocks at all. It's slightly interesting to see Jimmy / Snowman told from another person's perspective, but actually, we already knew that he was a womanising waster. I always find it much more interesting to see that there is something about a character, particularly a narrator, that you can see but that they cannot. To be truthful, I found all the characters rather dull and one dimensional.
I was also really irked by the sermons and hymns throughout the book, enabling transition from one protagonist to another. Well.. I think Atwood could have found a better method for this because they really really bored me. I was even tempted to skip them towards the end but felt obliged to force myself to skim them.
On the other hand, this does seem over critical because I did enjoy the book a lot. It's a fun read, just not one of Atwood's best by a long shot.
This companion novel to Oryx and Crake takes the reader into the pleeblands, exploring the effect that Crake's super virus had on the ordinary people. Toby and Ren both spent a time as God's Gardeners, a religion devoted to worshipping God through plants and science, but later leave the group through events out of their control. Toby, an older woman, is working at a spa when the catastrophe happens, and manages to stay alive through eating the edible treatments. Ren is a young woman working as a trapeze dancer in a sex club, thankfully locked into a controlled room and saved from the virus. As these women attempt to survive, they wonder if their friends have survived, and reflect on the paths their lives took before they ended up here.
Whereas it was difficult to relate to any of the characters in Oryx and Crake, it's amazingly easy here, and I feel comfortable saying that Ren and Toby put a human face on this dystopian world. They are the marginalized members of society, but they are still real women forced to confront women's issues. Toby is driven to the Gardeners after her boss basically rapes her and then decides that she is his, probably intending to kill her. When Ren joins the Gardeners, she is just a young girl at the mercy of her mother's mercurial temperament, and later suffers from unrequited love with a man who really does not deserve her. In a totally alien, if well-described, world, Ren and Toby are easy to relate to and bring the suffering home in a way that Oryx and Crake fails to do. Ren was actually my favorite, if only because we watch her grow up. Even though she eventually ends up in one of the elite high schools, she's still dealing with issues every teenager understands:
"I saw the temptation. I saw it clearly. I would come up with more bizarre details about my cultish life, and then I would pretend that I thought all these things were as warped as the HelthWyzer kids did. That would be popular. But also I saw myself the way the Adams and Eves would see me: with sadness, with disappointment. Adam One, and Toby, and Rebecca. And Pilar, even though she was dead. And even Zeb.
How easy it is, treachery. You just slide into it. But I knew that already, because of Bernice."
- p. 195
This is truly a wonderful novel. I felt the dystopian world was a bit less clear here, perhaps more ridiculous without the inside view, but because I'd read Oryx and Crake, I didn't have many questions. Rather, the novels worked in tandem, and I really think it helped to read one right after the other. I don't think it's necessary, but it provides a complete and intriguing picture. Some of the same characters appear, and actually had bigger parts than I'd expected, plus some bigger issues are clarified. If I had to choose, though, I'd choose this one. I'm all about great characters, and Ren and Toby win the day for me. I must admit, however, that I generally skipped over the God's Gardener homilies and songs, but I didn't find it deterred from the plot.
I loved The Year of the Flood* and I highly recommend it.
on 6 June 2016
I seem to have read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction recently, in which an all too fragile edifice of civilisation breaks down leaving a threatening and increasingly feral dystopian society. Emily St John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ and Louise Welsh’s ‘A Lovely Way to Burn’ were among the finest examples, along with Margaret Atwood’s ‘Oryx and Crace’.
‘The Year of the Flood’ is not so much a sequel to ‘Oryx and Crace’ as a companion volume. The earlier book looked back from an unspecified near future in the aftermath of the devastation of society (though it soon became clear through the protagonist’s recollections that society had actually been fragmenting for a long time) through the eyes of Snowman who had lived on the fringes of the privileged establishment. Snowman’s best friend had been a prominent researcher for a sinister Corporation that had been experimenting with new genomes and microbes whose unregulated escape had prompted the final devastation.
In ‘The Year of the Flood’ the story of the ‘waterless Flood’ is recounted from the perspective of a sect, God’s Gardeners, who had set themselves aside from the general run of society and established a network of self-sufficient vegan communes around California. The bulk of the novel takes the form of alternating narratives from Toby, one of the senior women within the sect, and Ren, a younger, former member of the sect who had been removed from it by her opportunistic and self-serving mother.
Both Toby and Ren have survived the devastation wrought by the plague (details of which are only hinted at), though neither of them know how many other survivors there are. Toby feels under siege in the spa complex in which she had ended up working, to evade detection by the security forces following a series of violent acts perpetrated by various militant vegetarian groups. Meanwhile Ren is locked in a secure room within a high tech brothel where she had been an exotic trapeze artist. Each section of the book starts with a sermon preached by the sect’s leader, Adam One, followed by one of the hymns that the sect would chant, before leading into the interlaced narratives of Ren and Toby.
This may all sound rather self-righteous and off-putting, but Atwood tells her story with her characteristic verve. Blending offbeat humour with acute observation and a plethora of cryptic literary and religious allusions. Her depiction of God’s Gardeners is masterful, drawing on a range of Old Testament themes (particularly the stories from ‘Genesis’ of the Creation), mixed with some suitably hippyesque embroidery, yet remaining almost alarmingly plausible. After all, I suppose that quasi-religious sects in California are not that difficult to believe!
The story unwinds at a gripping pace, and resonates powerfully with ‘Oryx and Crace’, with the two novels between them delivering a very powerful impact.
on 4 May 2015
This was my first experience of Margaret Atwood and I’m afraid I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. Perhaps this is her worst novel? The first two hundred pages, relentless exposition bereft of dramatic tension, bored me. It’s one of those novels that plays catch up – starts at year twenty-five, then goes back to year zero and works its way forward. The two narrators, a kind of everygirl and everywoman, are members of a new age travellers cult, but essentially struck me as hackneyed soap opera characters. They experience a typical concatenation of female experience, most notably disappointment in love and abuse at the hands of male vanity and privilege. But Atwood had no revelations to pass on, nothing interesting to tell me about these experiences. Not once, until the final hundred pages, did I find myself looking forward to what might happen next. Not once was I able to empathise with her characters except in the most superficial way. As storytelling it just never got my interest until perhaps the last hundred pages when we finally arrive back at the beginning and move forward. The satire seemed to me suffocating so that everything else in the novel, especially the characters, had to play second fiddle to the fusillade of very predictable jibes at contemporary culture. Compared to masters of satire like Nabokov and Amis this struck me often as childish and indulgently self-pleasuring. The writing itself was okay but again largely uninspired. Yes, there were some nice touches (most of which have since been stolen by other writers of dystopian fiction and better employed). But too often it read to me like the literary equivalent of those sci-fi films before special effects existed and ultimately failed to tick any of my boxes.
Having enjoyed 'Oryx and Crake' many years ago, I was predisposed to be impressed by this, the second book in Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy. It did not disappoint.
Set in a dystopian future the book chronicles the lives of a wide cast of disparate characters, thus enabling the reader to better understand the new world order. It works as a standalone read, although the references to characters from the first book of the series add interest.
As with other futuristic books by this author, the world she creates is all too believable. From the brothels to the beauty parlours to the segregated housing and healthcare for rich and poor, the reader will recognise the direction in which the modern world could be heading. The book is both comic and frightening in it's perceptiveness.
It is easy to read but has depth and action in abundance. Although it is tempting to despair of the foolish and selfish actions that have lead to this place in time, there remains humanity, friendship and compassion within individual relationships, alongside the power struggles inside the many groups. It feels real and therefore all too believable.
Leaps of faith are required, such as the creation of a new race by Crake (for which the first book offers background), but the studies of religion, power and humanity's acceptance of what should be horrific, are spot on.
It is a story of love, friendship and survival that spans twenty years in the lives of the main protagonists.
Another recommended read from one of my favourite authors.