Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Garden: A Review of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors. So far I've only read a few of her books--The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and, now, The Year of the Flood--but each of them has impressed me beyond my wildest dreams.

I find it rather telling that the last book I reviewed (The Road) took me several days to get through when it was a little over 200 pages while this book, at over 400, took me only about a day and a half.

Okay, so now for a little explanation:

The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Oryx and Crake and is the second book in Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy (I'm not sure when the third book is coming out but I'm anxiously awaiting it). The story follows two women, Ren and Toby, who have survived the plague that ripped through mankind in the last book. Ren, a twenty-something, has been holed up in a strip club, while Toby, an older woman, avoided being infected by staying inside the AnooYoo Spa.

As the book progresses you discover that both of these women were members of God's Gardeners, a religious sect that had been hinted at in the first book but never fully explained. Using the same flashback/flashfoward storytelling as in Oryx and Crake, Atwood fills in all the details about the religion and its members. The bulk of the story takes place in the past as both women think about their lives before the "Waterless Flood" of the plague. Eventually the story line meets up with the present and stays there for the remainder of the book.

Atwood uses both first person and third person POV to tell this story. Unlike Nabokov's Bend Sinister, however, this is much easier to follow as Ren's story is told in first person and Toby's is told in third. It helps to keep the two stories separate for the reader which is much appreciated as much of their story overlaps.

Once again Atwood proves very adept at weaving a tale that is dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic all at the same time. She also really delves deeply into the Gardeners, going so far as to write hymns for them, which are rather beautiful (you can purchase the music here). The characters are deep and unique and everything a character should be. The religion is well-crafted and seems very realistic, even though it isn't based off of any one true religious group. There are also lots of characters from Oryx and Crake popping up all over the place and seeing them is like running into old friends.

I think one of the things I liked best about this book is that it did two things that the last book did not--it explained why the last book ended the way it did and it answered my questions as to who the God's Gardeners were. Olivia, the girl who had gushed so much about Oryx and Crake when she found out I was reading it, said that she liked this book much better than that one. I'm not quite sure if I agree--I think they're both equally well-done--but one thing I did like better was that it told the story of Oryx and Crake through the eyes of people who had not really been behind any of its events. It was an outsider's point of view, which was kind of cool.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the way Atwood approaches religion and God. God's Gardeners believe that science and religion are not two separate schools of thought constantly at war with each other. Rather, they go hand-in-hand with one another. There are dozens of great quotes in this book that deal with the topic but I'll give you just a few of them:
God cannot be held to the narrowness of literal and materialistic interpretations, nor measured by human measurements, for his days are eons, and a thousand ages of our time are like an evening to him. Unlike some other religions, we have never felt it served a higher purpose to lie to children about geology (p. 11). 
We should not expect too much from faith...Human understanding is fallible, and we see through a glass, darkly. Any religion is a shadow of God. But the shadows of God are not God (p. 168).
Nature full strength is more than we can take...It's a potent hallucinogen, a soporific, for the untrained Soul. We're no longer at home in it. We need to dilute it. We can't drink it straight. And God is the same. Too much God and you overdose. God needs to be filtered (p. 327).
Present yet again is the humanity, horror, and humor of Oryx and Crake. While there is much to cringe about in this book, taken as a whole it is a beautiful and shocking look into a future that could, ultimately and unfortunately, be ours. I won't go off on a tangent and rant again like I did for my review of Oryx and Crake but I will say that I still believe that if things don't change we may end up living in a similar world. It is a terrifying thought but one that is worth considering.

If you have read Oryx and Crake and have not yet read The Year of the Flood then I suggest you do so. It's just as amazing as its predecessor and answers some of its unanswered questions. It's also probably a good idea to read it before the last book of the trilogy comes out (whenever that is).

Favorite quote of the entire book:
The various banking corps had once paid the local pleebmob for protection, but soon their Tex-Mex identity-theft specialists were skipping in and out as freely as mice. Finally the banks had given up and decamped because no employee's idea of a business day well spent was lying on the floor with duct tape over your mouth while an identity filcher hacked the accounts, gaining access with your cut-off thumb (p. 260).
I'm giving The Year of the Flood a five out of five stars.


On a related topic, the month of March is drawing to a close. I only have one more book left before I start next month's collection. Look for a post in the next couple of days that sums up this past month.

I'd like to hear what you have to say as well. Did you think the month was a success? What do you think about the monthly themes? How absolutely sick are you of dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit? Did any of my reviews inspire you to read some of these books? Let me know in the comments.



  1. I very much enjoyed this book. Margaret Atwood is one of my favoutie writers. I am also a huge fan of dystopian novels in general. However, those aren't my favourite books by Atwood. Strange that. Fantastic review though. If I hadn't read it already I definitely would have based on this recommendation.

  2. I definitely need to read more of her books. I'm just trying to figure out a way to sneak her in amongst all the other books I'm planning on reading. Where there's a will, there's a way...