Wednesday, September 22, 2010

weed-free manicure

The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood

In one of those serendipitous moments that happens every now and then, the Flash Blogging phrase that I am required to use today as my post title, just happens to also make a very suitable title for this review of Margaret Atwood's latest novel.

Set in the post-apocalyptic near future, The Year of the Flood unfolds through the reminiscences of two women who have survived the Waterless Flood that has obliterated most human life, Ren by virtue of being locked in quarantine in a sex club, Toby by barricading herself in an exclusive spa where she has functioned as a planted sleeper agent. Both women have been members of God's Gardeners, an environmental cult that blends Christianity with science and that struggles to preserve biological diversity in a world that is increasingly impacted by both species depletion and genetic engineering.

The world prior to the Waterless Flood is one that is disturbingly recognizable. The endangering of biodiversity, the rise of an increasingly powerful world security force, the ruination of cities, the barricading of the wealthy into scientific fortresses, and the development of splinter groups do not require a great stretch of the imagination to foresee happening. This is an apocalyptic tale with a strong environmental message, which only adds to its immediacy and its strength.

I do love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I was completely engrossed by The Year of the Flood. Atwood does such a masterful job of painting a rich and fully realised portrait of this world and the people who struggle to survive in it, that I found the 400+ pages not long enough.

My only quibble with the novel was with a couple of secondary characters who kept conveniently reoccurring and re-entering into the lives of Ren and Toby. Nobody has that many coincidental, yet highly significant, encounters with the same people.

I also found that the final portion of the book wrapped up rather quickly, when set against the pace of the rest of the novel leading up to it. Part of this, of course, was due to the fact that the novel had at that point moved entirely out of the realm of flashbacks and into the present. The pace naturally moves along more quickly when you are not stopping to reflect. But this was also where The Year of the Flood and its predecessor, Oryx and Crake, begin to meld and it felt slightly like two stories were battling to be told at once.

I think if I had recently read Oryx and Crake I would have appreciated that literary technique more fully, but as it was, I felt I had to spend too much time trying to remember what happened in a book I read several years ago.

But these are all minor quibbles, at most. I highly enjoyed The Year of the Flood, was thoroughly caught up in it, and come away with an ever-increasing admiration for the skill and the brilliant storytelling of Margaret Atwood.

19 comments:

justacoolcat said...

Wait, where's the free weed?

Missy said...

I am struggling with Oryx and Crake. Your review has me wondering what is up ahead for Snowman. May both books have barrel-roll endings? I have always enjoyed Atwood despite her taking me outside my literary comfort zone, but for some reason O & C has felt like work.

umbrellalady said...

I really liked Atwood's The Year of the Flood when I read it last year - it was pure Atwood all the way through. I found it somewhat resembled The Handmaid's Tale in its post-apocalyptic sense/feeling. I do agree with you that the secondary figures that kept popping in and out were distracting/annoying and too much of a coincidence considering how small the population supposedly was.

John Mutford said...

I'm currently reading this one as well and it's taking me forever. For the first time ever, I can't get into an Atwood novel. At all. I'm usually a fan!

Captain Karen said...

I LOVED Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and was really excited when this came out. Haven't had a chance to read it yet but have been looking forward to it. Am I understanding correctly though that I should be reading O&C first?? Great review, Barb!

leazwell said...

I have yet to give Atwood a serious try.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I was originally thinking of exploring that very question with this Flash Blogging post, JustA, but then I finished this book instead.

I enjoyed Oryx and Crake, but more so after I finished it than while I was reading it, Missy, whereas The Year of the Flood is a rollicking good read.

It really did have a similar sense, Kathy, I agree, despite the stories being radically different. You noticed that about those two characters too, did you? A little too convenient the way they kept showing up. I found myself saying "oh it's going to be that guy".

How curious, John! Whereas I found it to be one of her most accessible books. Perhaps we have different ideas of accessibility. You do read poetry for fun, after all.

I think you will really enjoy this book, Karen and I don't think that you need to read Oryx and Crake first. If you do, it will add another layer of understanding to the end of the book, but it certainly stands on its own.

This is a good one to start with, Leazwell, very readable.

Wandering Coyote said...

Well, as I said on FB, I could not finish O&C - so ridiculously boring and dry...I'm glad this book stands on its own because I just couldn't go back again to O&C...

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Leave Oryx and Crake behind, WC. The Year of the Flood is anything but dry and I found it very engrossing. Read it instead!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Excellent book. Atwood is a great American author.

John Mutford said...

I'm not finding it inaccessible as in the prose is too purple, but yes, I'm finding some of the year changes disorienting. And I don't think she does enough character building for the number of switches in perspective. Zeb? Who's that again?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Stop stealing our writers, Dr M!

For some reason I didn't have that problem, John, which is curious because normally if there are more than three people in the book (or in the room, in real life), I can't remember anyone's name. Or I call them all by my brother's name.

Dr. MVM said...

I didn't steal anybody my dear, Canada is in North America, so therefore Ms. Atwood is an American, as are you.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You are, of course, absolutely correct, Dr M, but you have to admit that referring to the continent does cause confusion. And it ruffles the feathers of Canadians who are always being mistaken for citizens of the USA. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

phlegmfatale said...

The Lottery is perhaps my alltime favorite short story. This book sounds intriguing and eerily plausible. I'll put it on my list. Thanks!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love The Lottery too, Phlegmmy! I read it in elementary school and still remember it well.

Buried In Print said...

This one made me want to reread O&C, but maybe I'll wait until the third in the group is published to thoroughly immerse myself in that world: such brilliantly disturbing storytelling!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Very brilliant, very disturbing writing, I agree, Buried in Print. But I wasn't aware there was a third book in the works. Exciting news!

emeire said...

Like you, I felt that rereading O&C just before would have helped me. I kept wanting to dig it out and go back to passages. I intend to read the two of them again; maybe just before the third book comes out...