Thursday, February 9, 2012
Review: The Year of the Flood
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I "read" Oryx and Crake on audio a couple of years ago, but I hadn't realized this was a follow-up novel, or how much time elapsed between their being written. I'm not sure if that would've made me more or less apt to read The Year of the Flood, but I am glad I gave this book a listen. It greatly enriched my enjoyment of both books.
The story begins in the year 25, "the year of the flood," according to the calendar the Gardeners keep. We follow the stories of Ren, a woman locked in the biological containment zone of a high-class brothel, and Toby, an older woman making her way in a luxury spa. They both belonged to the religious sect who called themselves God's Gardeners, who predicted and prepared for the "waterless flood," a mass near-extinction of humanity. Toby hides out among the Gardeners, eventually joining their ranks, while Ren is raised with their dogma.
While the world in The Year of the Flood is exactly the same as Oryx and Crake, with many of the same characters, and the narrative is told in a similar frame, this is entirely different. Year of the Flood is told through the perspective of two women who were in the weird religious sect that inspired Crake's impact on the world. The satire and that Atwood was depicting a world that deserved to be wiped out was much clearer to me in this book than in Oryx and Crake. Jimmy regards things far more dispassionately than Ren and Toby do. They have a lot more to lose by a misstep in a world that considers female bodily autonomy a pesky question solved by putting a monetary value on it.
I'm sure the opinion that putting corporations in control of the world is a bad idea was depicted in Oryx and Crake, but it was far more frequently vocalized in Year of the Flood, often by the God's Gardeners. We spend far more time in the pleeb lands, the dystopian future's version of ghettos. Anyone unlucky enough to not be owned by a corporation makes their way through extreme violence, theft, scrounging and scraping, and selling whatever people will buy. The only glimmer of hope is with the aforementioned God's Gardeners or a similar religious sect, which vacillates between being ignored by the corporate-owned military, and persecution.
The plot, itself, covers much of the same period of time as Oryx and Crake. It extends that story by precisely two scenes. While it doesn't expand the timeline much, it broadens the story immensely. It has a similarly open end, but is a satisfying conclusion, nonetheless.
I would be remiss if I didn't warn you there is rape and sexual violence in this book. However, the brutality of the rape is depicted in the most sensitive way, with the least sexualization of it, I've ever read. The rape is never described, and the reader is spared experiencing it with the victim. And yet, the violence of it is depicted thoroughly.
There are also some gross scenes. Bugs are ingested for their protein, and maggots are used for medicinal purposes. The violence is often horrifying, though rarely dwelled upon.
A note about the audio book: this contained the Gardener's hymns performed by Orville Stoeber. It sometimes made for a strange juxtaposition, especially with how commercial the music sounded, with such bizarre lyrics. I liked it. I thought it was used to good effect. There's more information about the music here.
The audio book also had three separate readers for each of the narrators. The third is Adam One of God's Gardeners, and his sections always prefaced the singing of a hymn. I recognized Toby's reader as having narrated American Rose, but I didn't recognize the other two. All I can say is that they did the narrative justice.
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