The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

I have been meaning to read Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of The Flood for ages. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get around to opening the first few pages. I think part of it was the question as to whether or not you have to read Oryx and Crake first which I haven’t done. Some people say you do and some people say you don’t. Margaret Atwood herself has said you don’t need to, so I went with her opinion as apparently this is a ‘sister’ novel.

The Year of the Flood is set in the future, though quite when I wasn’t sure I personally felt it wasn’t too much in the distance and yet not in the next decade. The book is told through the experiences and life’s of two members of what people deem the cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ who await ‘the waterless flood’ which will kill out most of mankind. Here their leader Adam One teaches the followers of this mix of science and religion in a slightly free spirited way. After all this is the man who says ‘it is better to hope than to mope’ also showing some of Atwood’s wry humour. Two female members who come into this cult are Ren as a young girl when her mother runs off with her and one of the other members of God’s Gardeners, the other is Toby who is literally though never quite spiritually saved by Adam One.

The book alternates between the voices of Ren in second person and Toby in first person both in the times before ‘The Flood’ and in the times after interspersed with the preaching’s and hymns of Adam One and the God’s Gardeners (which I did find a little irritating – tiny bit – but could see their purpose). Ren has become a dancer and worker in a high class sex club and Toby has been living out of a derelict AnooYoo Spa living off the edible treatments. The question of what the flood is and if human kind, green rabbits and liobambs (dangerous creatures half lion half sheep) can survive is one that you will have to read the book to find out.

Now I don’t want to give anything away but I do need to give a little to explain further why I thought this book was so brilliant. Atwood uses the way the women enter the world of God’s Gardeners in a really interesting way in aspects to their views on it. Ren is brought there as a child and so really knows no better than the confines she is in until she leaves them (I won’t say why or when or how) and has to be a child in the ‘real world’ a world where SecretBurgers are made from just that… secrets ingredients, and if you are a cat fan beware of this chain and where the CorpSeCorps rule everything. Toby herself is rescued from that world and though joins the God’s Gardeners and becomes an Eve herself she is never quite sure if she believes all that she is meant to.

I found these different outlooks on the cult group fascinating and also their reactions to the fearful world outside the God’s Gardeners habitats. It’s also these differing pasts before The Flood that make how both women survive the initial time after when we join them so interesting and so utterly opposite. Mingle in Atwood’s dark tales of urban life, her wry humour, a death scene which made me cry and her thought provoking plot and you can’t really go wrong. Can you tell that I really, really loved this book yet? It’s a speculative spectacle.

So do you need to have read Oryx and Crake first? I hadn’t before I read this, though I will be reading it very soon I can assure you, and I didn’t feel that I was confused by the book as its wonderfully drawn for you with Atwood’s prose and is so rivetingly readable. Maybe I will read Oryx and Crake and think ‘oh no… I know how this ends’ but time will tell. Have you read either of these books?

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18 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review

18 responses to “The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

  1. I will offer an admission, and that is I’ve never read a single thing by Atwood. I keep saying I need to fix this but I never seem to be able to get to it. Some of the other books scare me, but your review of this one has gotten my attention. (Gavin just reviewed this too.)Thanks Simon!

    • I think once you read Atwood you know you will read much, much more. Well thats what I would hope as I think she is one of out great living authors in my humble opinion. I would try some short stories or The Handmaid’s Tale to start with the lattre was my first and have loved her ever since bar one hiccup.

  2. Interesting! I haven’t read Onyx and Crake either. I also haven’t read an Atwood in years though I loved, loved Alias, Grace. It’s one of my favourites. Have you read that one?

    • I haven’t read alias grace even though I have it. I am going to aim to read much much more over the next year. I will have to space out the big ones though. Cat’s Eye is on my hit list at the moment.

  3. Jo

    I will probably be reading this boxing day! Dylan has bought it me for christmas. I’m going to have to act surprised because mum had to tell me because I was about to buy it! Not sure how he knows I want it, it was apparently his idea! he think he might be sneaking looks at my book lists!

    I really liked Oryx and Crake, but it did take two attempts to read it. I put it down the first time, but then loved it the second time i tried it.

    • Hahahaha brilliant. I don’t have to do the suprised face, I write a list or tend to get sent lots of vouchers. I wonder how on earth he knew you wanted it. Is it because you have been wandering round the house screaming ‘I must read the latest Atwood novel’.

  4. Glad you liked it Simon. And I appreciate how well you are able to provide plot synopses (is that the plural?). I am hopeless at it so can only focus on my own point of view.

    • Do they call them synopseses or synopsi? What an interesting quandry hahaha. I dont think there is anything wrong with only giving your thoughts as your review of The Year of the Flood reached out to me because of your enthusiasm.

  5. I read Oryx and Crake back when it was published, but couldn’t really remember it – like you said though, I don’t think that made too much of a difference! I enjoyed Atwood’s writing as usual but kept wanting something more out of the plot. I think with dystopian books I’m always wishing for a more specific backstory (ie. how did it get so bad?).

    • I think with Atwood what she does is leave it to the readers imagination and I do think sometimes if things are left to the reader it can be worse. It’s like in all really good horror movies. I have found my imagineation can create some awful things and in away you and the author are working together. Maybe thats just me hahahaha, I could be talking waffle!

      • That’s probably true… It’s just that I read The Handmaid’s Tale recently and it was made extra-terrifying by these little details about how the government in power actually did it (for example, starting the enslavement of women by taking away their bank card powers, which was all too easy with the demise of paper cash). Although, there, too, she also left a lot to the imagination.

      • The Handmaid’s Tale is indeed terrifying, the bits that scared me the most where the waste lands where old women went… they didnt say too much about them but what there was that was hinted was in my mind horrific.

  6. I just can not read enough good things about this book! Hopefully my parents are getting me this for Christmas. I read Oryx and Crake a while ago and I don’t think you’ll be thinking you know how it ends, because from what I can glean from the description these are two very seerate books. Oryx and Crake is so dominated by a love triangle, that the resolution of that group of characters probably seperates it from this book.

    • I hope they do get you this for Christmas Jodie as it is definately a treat that lots and lots of people should read. Think this is one of my fav’s of 2009 at the moment. It’s been a great year for fiction this year I think.

      Sounds like Oryx and Crake and this are similar and yet very different, I will be looking forward to going back to this world.

  7. Hi, Simon! The last Margaret Atwood that I’ve read was The Blind Assassin, which I thought was just brilliant! Now I wonder why I haven’t read any of her novels recently. I have Oryx and Crake in my TBR pile, so I guess I’ll be reading that first before I subtly tell my friends that I want The Year of the Flood for Christmas. Hehehe.

    • I liked the Blind Assassin a lot too though its harder work than this novel, well thats what i found anyway. Mind you books that can need some work reward well I find (unless they are such hard work you give up). This rewards without too much effort which is nice too.

  8. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

  9. Pingback: In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood | Savidge Reads

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