Margaret Atwood is arguably one of our best contemporary authors. Her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale set the standard for a thinking person’s view of what the world might look like in the not-too-distant future. Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake was a sideways glance at a world created by genetic modification and corporate and pharmaceutical conspiracy.
The Year of the Flood is a prequel/sequel/companion novel to Oryx and Crake. While both novels can be read and enjoyed as stand-alones, if one chooses to read both, they are best read in the order published. The first half of The Year of the Flood contains only peripheral references to characters and situations from Oryx and Crake; however, the paths, events, and characters begin to converge in the second half of the book until both arrive at the same final scene. Atwood, being adept at creating dystopian societies, fleshes out the details of a world already visited, but viewed from a foggy distance. Previously told from a male protagonist’s point of view, this time, it is told by two women.
In The Year of the Flood, the stories of Toby, a woman abused by her employer, and Ren, a young woman whose childhood is manipulated and controlled until she figures out how to manipulate and control in turn, are told both in present situations and in flashbacks to their youth. Their childhoods are explored to illustrate how they came to survive the waterless flood — a plague wrought by government/pharmaceutical/corporate entities whose lines are blurred.
Toby and Ren, separately, come to live among and become members of God’s Gardeners–a group brought together in hopes of creating a self-sufficient community able to carry on after the anticipated apocalyptic plague. Full of Adams and Eves of varying skills and knowledge, God’s Gardeners is a group led by Adam One, an enigmatic gatherer of people cast off by what little is left of society . They grow and store their own food to avoid being poisoned by the mass-produced foods and supplements geared to allow the use of the general population as guinea pigs. Their version of the green movement is largely sneered at, and they are social outcasts by choice as much as force.
The outsiders who assist or come to live among God’s Gardeners are often covert operators allowing information vital to the preparation for the waterless flood to pass between worlds; Zeb, Ren’s pseudo step-father, and Glenn, who we eventually recognize as Crake, make appearances early. Amanda, a slightly older outsider is key to Ren’s escape from the aftermath of the flood. Jimmy, aka Snowman, also figures into the Ren’s story after she has left God’s Gardeners.
Toby, who is never quite sure if she belongs but has no place left to go, must eventually be secreted out of the compound when her former employer learns of her whereabouts and is determined to settle a score. She is brought to an operative location as the manager of a natural spa, and it is here she is found, the seeming sole survivor of the flood at the book’s open. Eventually, Toby and Ren are reunited and search for Amanda who is a captive of vicious Painballers. The climax converges at light speed with the story told in Oryx and Crake, and those final moments take on new perspective as Snowman and the Crakers re-appear.
Atwood’s tone is, as usual, dark, and the book contains graphic violence and sex. The society she has created is gritty and largely unpleasant. However, her projection of what the world could become is stunning in that much of what she covers could be a natural outcome of what is already in motion in today’s society. It is indeed a cautionary tale and, in that sense, is no less frightening than The Handmaid’s Tale.
Lisa is oldish girl who enjoys simple living and hopes to homestead someday. When she is not reading, she is either knitting, crocheting, or sewing funky little things for her family and friends. She enjoys the company of her husband, daughters, and rescue dogs.