Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Year of the Flood

I am almost afraid to write about this book. It is my last read of the five for Canada Reads and the one I have to defend with my own book club. Stephen Lewis takes on the challenge for the "real " contest. The word is that since Stephen has a serious gift of the gab the book can't help but win. He isn't so sure since he never reads fiction. Until now of course. But my trepidation stems from who has written this one. One of our Canadian writer icons (definitely a Canadian) so what could I possibly say about it that would have any significance? Well only what I have said about the others. No unfair advantages in my contest.

I read Oryx and Crake many years ago which is the first in the trilogy with The Year of the Flood being the second. I think I have mentioned that I tend to read quickly for plot and this catches me when I try to remember the characters of a book. Well this is the case with Oryx and Crake. I do remember not particularly liking it at the time but that's about it. Now that I am finished the second book it is coming back a bit. In all fairness to myself I have read a lot of books since then. I keep a list of titles but it may be time for me to add some clues as to what the book is about!

Lovely photo of Margaret Atwood

I also struggled to "get into" this story. It is complex in its description of a world destroyed by human greed and corruption. There is no mention of a country so it could be anywhere although it has all the attributes of North America. It doesn't start out in the now so it takes a while to figure out what she is writing about. There are genetically modified animals and many of the animals on earth now are extinct. The bulk of the book takes place in 2025. Most of the people are wretchedly poor and highly controlled by a large corporation. Others work for this corporation experimenting on the poor. Bleak existence. As I persevered I learned who was who and some of their back story.  

    "The Year of the Flood" alternates third person narrative with first person narrative from two  survivors:
     Toby, a middle aged manager of a "A Noo Yoo" spa for the rich pampered corps women, is formerly known as Eve 6 of the most influential Gardener group led by famous "preacher" Adam One whose superb sermons scattered through the book are a big highlight. A young woman in Year Five when she escaped the clutches of her violent boss Blanco to live among the Gardeners, Toby discovers a talent for plants, bees, teaching life-lore and becomes an influential Gardener, while she develops friendship with Adam' "second in command", mysterious tough guy Zeb who is partner of jealous fugitive corps wife Lucerne and "stepfather" of second pov Ren. Her narrative is the "adult" one through which the fate of the world unfolds.

      Ren aka Brenda is currently a trapeze artist and occasional prostitute in the famous "Scales and Tails" establishment. Born with the Gardener chronology, so twenty five at present, we see the unfolding events through her childhood eyes since her mother ran away from her luxurious but cramped position as corporate wife to take refuge with lover Zeb in the Gardener compound.

The book is rich with odd, kind, terrifying, confused and frightened characters. Margaret Atwood paints her characters vividly so I had no problem sorting out who was who.

The cover of my copy
Similar image but less emphasis on the flower

This illustrator  was interested in the animals rather than the plants!
“Atwood is funny and clever. [She] knows how to show us ourselves, but the mirror she holds up to life does more than reflect. . . . The Year of the Flood isn’t prophecy, but it is eerily possible.”
— The New York Times Book Review
     “Leave it to Atwood to find humor in a post-apocalyptic world as she covertly, and brilliantly, addresses questions of how we need to live on an imperiled planet.” —Kansas City Star
       These two reviewers found humour in the story. I will have to reread parts before I mount my defense in a couple of weeks so I will look for the "funny parts." I guess I missed them the first time around. 

  This book is more intricate than the others on the list. I believe I have a good chance of making a strong case for this book to be the one that Canadians should read but it is up against some pretty intriguing competitors. 


  1. you made me laugh out loud and intrigued me with this. I skipped Oryx and Crake purposefully (I know - that must be a Canadian sin!) as I generally loathe post-apocalyptic novels, but I may have to rethink that now!

  2. Only if you are in the mood when you read it to wade through much description of a post apocalyptic world without any pictures. All that aside I am in awe of her mind and literary fortitude if that is what it is??

  3. I read Oryx and Crake and was terrified. I haven't summoned the courage for the 'Flood", although I must admit when you said you need to recover from the Year of the Flood in Burton, I took you literally. After reading your review, I'll give it a shot. In between books about happiness :)

    1. I've updated myself. Let's see how I look ;)

    2. So that "Unknown" up there? That was me.

  4. Great Cathy. More fun with your photo! I don't think the Year of the Flood is as scary if you ignore all the nasty bits and just pay attention to the characters although I wouldn't have a go for a bit. It might wear down the Happiness too quickly.