Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book 98: The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

As much as I like Margaret Atwood, I was a bit hesitant to read this. I feel like some of her more recent books have been disappointing. I knew it was a tie in to Oryx and Crake though they didn't necessarily have to be read in any particular order, and it could still work as a stand alone novel. I read Oryx and Crake a while back, so I couldn't remember much beyond some basic plot points, so it kind of irritated me that I didn't remember more as I was reading this one . . . when Jimmy and Glenn appeared, I wondered if they were characters from the other novel, but it took me a few more chapters to put two and two together. Still, I think if I hadn't read Oryx and Crake already, this actually wouldn't have been a problem . . . it was just the faint recollection that was worse than not knowing at all since I was trying to place it within a context I couldn't remember.

Mostly, I liked this though it took me a while to get into this, partially for the above reasons, and partially because the sermons and the poems from the Gardners seemed like distractions at first. However, as the novel progresses, and I became acquainted with the characters, this wasn't the case since the sermons would contain names of characters I knew and as a result, feel more like background. At first they had simply seemed like philosophy or religious thoughts, both things that tend to make me zone off. I still could have done without the poems that came with each sermon though.

The novel is told from the perspective of two characters, Toby and Ren, who knew each other in the past. As the novel begins, the virus/plague that ended Oryx and Crake has passed, and Toby and Ren are two survivors due to the fact that they had been in isolation as it hit. Toby is in a spa where she had stored goods for just such an occasion as a result of her years with the Gardeners, and their prophecies of the waterless flood (or the plague/virus tha occured). Ren is trapeze artist at a gentleman's club and had been in the isolation room after an incident with a customer to make sure she was virus-free. Ren's story is told from 1st person, and Toby's is told from 3rd person limited.

The novel switches back and forth between the two characters, and each chapter/part begins with the year 25 as seen by the Gardeners, or the year of the flood, and then goes back to give background on the characters. Ren and Toby knew each other before when they lived with the Gardeners, a religious sect; Ren came to live with them when she was around 10, in the year 10, while Toby had joined them earlier when she was already in her twenties. As a result, the reader gets to see the perspective of a child and an adult in this community, and different interpretations of the same events.

Atwood describes the world she had already introduced in Oryx and Crake, although this time it is from the perspective of the poor rather than the two boys that grew up in a more middle class and sheltered environment. Private corporations are in control of everything, species are dying out by the day, and excess exists all around for those that can afford it.

Given what little I had heard about this novel before reading it, I was actually pleasantly suprised. As I said, I had a few issues getting into it, but once the story really started going, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I believe there is supposed to be a third novel, and I would definitely like to see where Atwood goes with it - whether she will introduce new characters and perspectives or if she will continue more with the remainders of humanity trying to forge a life in this new world.


Anonymous said...

I started reading this without realising it was a follow on from Oryx and Crake (which I hadn't really enjoyed), and then got annoyed that it felt like I knew the background of the story from somewhere. Finally I twigged and it made sense. Sadly I'd read O&C years before and couldn't remember things about it, like the crossover of characters, and that started to bug me too. But I did really enjoy this one, and couldn't put it down. I'd like to read O&C again and see if I like it more this time, and then follow up with this again. But not for a while.

Jen K said...

I can't remember much about Oryx and Crake - I feel like I liked it well enough, but I also think I liked this one better. The characters were more relatable, maybe? Or maybe Atwood's just better at writing women?