I so wanted to enjoy The Year of the Flood. I loved Oryx and Crake, to which it isn’t a sequel as such but a companion piece. I’ve also been really affected by The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad, both of which gave me an appetite to learn more about Margaret Atwood and her work.
Did I enjoy it? All the while I was reading I had a nagging sensation of “what’s the point” – Oryx and Crake had been such a well-conceived and contained novel that I felt myself constantly questioning whether this other angle on the story, on the move to the “waterless flood” which I had known from that previous novel would occur, and would be the result of Crake’s megalomania (he’s a minor character in this novel, and actually arguably slightly more rounded). The end of the novel didn’t seem to offer much hope for the future, and that seemed to be that. This time, that ending is shown to be less desolate, less definite. There does seem to be some hope for humanity, and its future. Other reviews have focused on the annoyance and absurdity of the God’s Gardener sermons and hymns (which Atwood turned into a touring show, appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival for example). I shared that annoyance, and will admit that I skipped the majority of the hymns.
The novel focuses on two characters briefly mentioned in Oryx and Crake – Ren and Toby, and we see the development (or more correctly existence) of a society where cloning, body transformation, environmental degradation, and technology have developed well beyond our current level, with little thought to ethics or morality. This is a world where anything can and does go. The elite, employed by biotechnology companies, are kept in sanitized compounds, while the “pleeblanders” like Ren and Toby live outside that safety perimeter, and are bought and sold like the manufacutred rakunks, liobams and pigoons that come to dominate the landscape. Integrated into that landscape are the environmental cults predicting disaster. God’s Gardeners, populated by Adams and Eves, predict and prepare for environmental apocalypse, the so-called “waterless flood. Interestingly, Atwood will be appearing at the Royal Society in November to talk at a Royal Society of Literature event on climate change, and it’s obviously something that she cares passionately about, but (as with McEwan’s Solar), I would question how she has set about providing that message to the reader. A less fervent Adam One, for example, and a more sympathetic approach to the Gardeners themselves, may have created a more powerful message.
Again, there are some confused (or realistic) attitudes to science and technology within the novel, with both their benefits and abuses being vividly depicted. We see the downside of new developments, and their impacts in created a morally bankrupt world, but equally they enable the Gardeners and those remaining after the flood to maintain contact with the outside world, and to survive the “flood”, which has itself been enabled by science.
So, have I answered my question on whether I enjoyed it or not? I think so. This is a multi-faceted novel which can be read on its own or with Oryx and Crake. It deals with some current issues, and presents a message of the need for action being taken in a measured and considered way. It’s more hopeful than the previous book, and all in all I’m glad that I have read it.