Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I don't know if it can truly be said that a work of speculative fiction, which inherently narrates events that are both fictional and yet to occur, is exquisitely well-observed; yet it is what I must say of Margaret Atwood's thoughtful and disturbing dystopian novel, The Year of the Flood.  Take this short passage, observing the sound of birds after an ecological disaster has put to an end most of humanity (I'm not spoiling any plot points, this is early in the book):

"Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass:  there's no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out.  Do they notice that quietness, the absence of motors?"

The narrative is rich with such "clear and sharp" observations, which, along with the emotional resonance of the character's stories, add a depth and seriousness beyond what is usually found in the speculative genre.

The "Flood" of the title is also referred to as "the waterless Flood," a disease that wipes out the majority of humanity.  The story tracks several characters that have survived this event, the same event that informed Atwood's earlier novel, Oryx and Crake (the two books also share some of the characters).  The world is a kind of dystopian nightmare where police work has been contracted out to an increasingly repressive and murderous private security force; the only way not to be street-poor is to live and work in a corporate compound, corporations such as HelthWyzer, which is apparently in a circular business of both causing and treating illnesses.  The world is full of various genetically modified animals that had been created for one reason or another and now roam wild.  Ironic biblical echoes occur throughout the novel, such as in the lion-lamb hybrid known as a liobam, which is, apparently, every bit as predatory as the lion it is based on.  Stories of the survival of these few characters are interspersed with flashbacks concerning a cult of vegetarian Gardeners who attempt to stave off the predicted ecological disaster by living in harmony with nature and preaching an updated re-interpretation of the Bible along ecological lines (complete with hymns).   Ren and Toby are two women who, through different circumstances, become involved with the Gardeners and also survive the Waterless Flood.  While other characters are involved, much of the novel focuses on their stories as well as the larger story of the dying of the human world.

Whether on the Kindle or in book form, The Year of the Flood is a moving and thoughtful gem.

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Jeanne said...

Yes, that's a good point about it being a well-observed novel. Also such a good story!

BookishDude said...

Jeanne, thanks for your comment! I'm going to have a look at your site later!

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