First, apologies.

I would first like to apologize for my prolonged absence. I became, briefly, a very busy bookseller during the holiday season.  That, along with personal issues and lack of internet access at home, has kept me away. I promise to be better.

I think I would like to talk about Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the sequel/companion to her 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood is, by far, one of my favorite books of the year.  I read it almost 6 months ago and it still sticks with me.

Let us begin at the beginning, shall we? The beginning of this world is in Oryx and Crake. Crake, a pseudonym for a young, brilliant mastermind Glenn, creates a new race of people called the Crakers and is helped by an enigmatic Oryx (an Asian girl, who may or may not have been sexually abused as a child) and Snowman or Jimmy to an even lesser extent.  To the Crakers, Crake is god and Oryx is their teacher.  This takes place in a protected and sterile laboratory/facility. Until it doesn’t. There is a disease that kills almost everyone, except Jimmy because he has sealed himself in the lab; and the Crakers because they are genetically modified not to get sick (in addition to other modifications). Because we understand the epidemic from Jimmy/Snowman’s perspective, we do not know what happened or how, though a hint is given and I won’t give it away. After the disease has swept through and destroyed most people and let all the genetically modified animals and people out, Jimmy/Snowman now hangs around the peripheries of the city, scavenging. He has also turned himself into a self-fashioned messenger from god for the Crakers, i.e. they ask him questions about Crake and Snowman makes up answers. The city is a wasteland and is populated by Crakers and animals that are crosses between lambs and lions, wolves and pigs, etc. Jimmy gets an infection in his foot and walks off so the Crakers don’t have to watch him die. However, it isn’t made clear if he dies, so I’m not giving that away either.

Here ends Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood runs concurrently with the events in Crake, but through the experience of two women, Ren and Toby. Ren, lives trapped inside a kind of strip club taken to the nth degree and so has been saved from the disease’s worst effects. Toby was able to seal herself inside a spa before the disease hit. The novel goes back into the time before the epidemic or the “flood” of the book’s title. These women are connected by more than their survival. They were, for a time, part of group called The Gardeners, briefly mentioned in Crake as God’s Gardeners. Atwood makes a mixture of their belief system which includes bits of predestination, good works, the current locavore and “go green” environmental trend, and singing. Through their experiences, the reader learns more about what happened before the flood and the events leading up to it. The novel also shows the very personal lives of these two women as they try to make sense of this world that has lost something for the sake of technology.

The reason I didn’t go on about the plot of Flood as I did in Crake is because Flood isn’t as plot-driven as  Crake. Crake, to me, was more of an action story that got the reader to the point of “this is the world we have created, where the only people, if you can call them that, have no emotions and no pasts, because we couldn’t forget the terrible things we’ve done and had to start all over”. Flood has so many moments of beauty, incisive social commentary, and tragedy that listing them here would defeat its distinct wisdom.

It’s also interesting to think about these two novels juxtaposed. Each has a character is trapped inside one of the society’s monuments to genetic modification and are thereby saved because of their entrapment (Jimmy and Ren). Each have a scavenger and a survivor (Jimmy, after he escapes, and Toby). Where Crake has a pseudo-religion that moves from idea to gospel (as Jimmy’s stories transition from just stories to repeated ideas); Flood has a pseudo-religion that moves from peaceful living to almost-terrorist tactics.  Very interesting.

I would recommend that one read Crake before Flood, only because after one has experienced Flood, Crake just seems rather meh. This is the way that I experienced it. I would have preferred to read Crake  first because I would have been taken in by the world she created and then blown away by the genius of Flood.



3 comments so far

  1. Biblioklept on

    I’ll have to check this one out. I absolutely loved Oryx and Crake, and I’ve heard now a couple of times that Flood is superior. Have you read The Penelopiad? It’s a pretty cool take on the Odyssey from, y’know, Penelope’s perspective.

  2. Caeli on

    I’d agree with the reading oryx and crake first bit – it was only almost at the end of the year of the flood that I realized it was the companion/follow up novel to another, and only then did the book seem to make a lot more sense – it felt like there was so much I was missing in it, a lot of back story. Again, I was rather irritated by the whole reading it process – it was very upsetting in many ways, that book and I’m not sure it redeemed itself for me to make it worth it. An excellent character driven book like you say, and with truly rounded female perspectives and voice, which I did really like. It was the first Atwood I had read since A Handmaid’s Tale years ago, and it was really interesting to see how her dystopian but feminist-interested perspective had evolved and where it’s gone.

  3. brilliantstella on

    Yeah, she has definitely taken things to a new level. I understand that on the audiobook version, the songs are actually sung, by her. I’m not sure if I want to hear that.

    I think I always get excited about dystopian or re-imagined futures, no matter what they are. If something takes place in the future and isn’t too much sci-fi, I’m in. That is probably my bias.

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