Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood

Here is my first review as a member of this year’s Giller Prize Shadow Jury: The Year of the Flood (2009) (longlisted for 2009 Giller Prize). I’m excited to discuss this book! However, because I don’t want that sentiment to mislead any Atwood lovers into reading a highly irreverent review you’d rather avoid, I must forego witholding my opinion of this book and forewarn you: my basic response to The Year of the Flood was (1) giddiness because the first half, to me, was “So Bad It’s Great!”; (2) indifference as the book became nothing more than a faux-literary thriller, with all of the conventions and lack of depth so that it read more like Stephen King than Margaret Atwood; and (3) indignation at the author’s pretensions, particularly in the self-promoting build-up to this novel’s release and as showcased on the “Acknowledgements” page. In brief, this is not a glowing review. In fact this might be my most negative review yet, and I usually avoid such negativity. However, it’s worth discussing this book, negativity and all (well, negativity is about all that’s here), and not just because of the Shadow Jury. There are a lot of books out there that don’t pretend to be literature; they have their place and meet their expectations. Then there is an ugly class of books that pretend to be more than they are. I don’t like it when an author who knows better presents that faux literature as something profound. And it’s almost offensive when that author’s methods for promoting the book are beyond pretentious.

Let me get one thing straight, though, before I call down your ire, or at least before I call down more of your ire: I do respect some of Atwood’s work. She has exceptional talent. You’ll find nothing but my deepest praise for The Handmaid’s Tale; it is one of my favorite books, truly a highlight not just of Atwood’s career, but also a highlight of speculative fiction. Alias Grace (which won the Giller and was one of the first books I reviewed on this site) had me intrigued throughout until the disappointing ending. And The Blind Assassin was as clever and enjoyable a book-that-should-not-have-won-the-Booker as you’ll find. Furthermore, after reading The Year of the Flood, I am actually more likely to read Oryx and Crake (The Year of the Flood takes place at the same time and even involves some of the same characters), as the references to it towards the end seemed more substantial and interesting than the soap opera I was reading. So, hopefully you see that while I do not hold myself out to be Atwood’s greatest fan, I am attracted to her books. She is a terrific writer, sometimes, but I’m afraid what we have here is a prime example of talent gutted by ego.

The-Year-of-the-Flood

The plot itself is engaging only because its structure keeps the mysteries alive. This is a structure we’ve seen in other Atwood novels, so though it is effective and well executed here, it must now be Atwood’s go-to formula. The Year of the Flood is divided into several large sections with chapter titles. Each section begins with a short speech from Adam One, the founder of God’s Gardeners, to his fellow Gardeners. The speeches, besides letting us know which time period the bulk of the events of the upcoming section cover, give Atwood a chance to express blunt philosophy with no nuance or depth, but with many aphorisms, because Adam One is seen as a bit of an eccentric:

By covering such barren rooftops with greenery we are doing our small part in the redemption of God’s Creation from the decay and sterility that lies all around us, and feeding ourselves with unpolluted food into the bargain. Some would term our efforts futile, but if all were to follow our example, what a change would be wrought on our beloved Planet! Much hard work still lies before us, but fear not, my Friends: for we shall move forward undaunted.

I am glad we have all remembered our sunhats.

Each speech ends with “Let Us Sing” (or its equivalent), and we then have the dubious pleasure of reading the hymn the congregation is singing. After the hymn, the section moves to a brief segment about either Toby or Ren, the two main characters, in Year Twenty-Five, the Year of the Flood. Year Twenty-Five is the book’s present time. Some pandemic, a “waterless flood” (a wonderfully apt name, showing that Atwood still has a gift for new perspective as she ties together culture, the present, and its future — there’s something positive!), is about to spread or has spread over the earth, wiping out humanity, but these two women are survivors (as, we find out, are several other characters, all fortuitously and conveniently — it’s beyond a stretch that they all survive and come together).

After that brief glimpse into what Toby and Ren are doing in the Year Twenty-Five, the section moves into the past (to the year Adam One’s speech indicated) for several smaller chapters within the larger section. Either Toby or Ren tell how they became part of God’s Gardeners, introducing us to the people in their lives, their doubts, their tragedies, eventually leading us up to the causes and effects of the Flood, eventually filling in the gap in the narrative.

That gap between the past and the bleak present is the heart of the novel. But this is where Atwood’s structure becomes formulaic, a low-grade authorial trick. In the Year Twenty-Five, Toby and Ren speak of the past in vague but suggestive ways, and most of the time we can tell that it’s actually Atwood teasing the reader and that the prevaricating is not based in the characters themselves; or, in other words, the prevaricating does nothing to deepen the characters, to make their minds come alive. Some of my favorite books use a similar technique, but for more purpose than to snag the reader: for example, in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day Stevens is vague about his past because he himself doesn’t want to acknowledge it; it’s an effective way to show his own evasiveness. Perhaps Atwood is emphasizing the stark contrast between the Ren and Toby of the past and present, though that in itself isn’t particularly important. Also, with Atwood we’re getting junk like this:

He was an older guy, bald on top, with a ponytail at the back, and a lot of arm tattoos. There was something familiar about him — maybe he was a repeat — but I didn’t get a very good look.

Such plotting is artificial. It’s an author’s evasiveness shoved onto her characters, meant to drag readers on to a promised climax that is often much less interesting than the one we imagined. Atwood is a master at this structure and has used it more effectively before, and on a sentence-by-sentence level this is still a well written book. So — as was the case in Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin — I found myself reading because the pages flowed on smoothly and I wanted to know what happened between the past and present. Many more author’s shenanigans, I’m afraid.

I’m sure there are many readers who will disagree with this next proposition, but I also didn’t find Toby and Ren to be particularly interesting characters. Atwood has given them a past that is compelling reading; the problem is that again it is familiar territory Atwood has plodded before: abandonment, sexual warfare, wandering hands of otherwise innocuous men, outright brutal sexual abuse of not-so-innocuous men, psychological warfare between the affected women as their identities fade away, the way our culture infects us with these tendencies. Because the background was so familiar, Toby and Ren become stock characters; the things that happened to them lost their impact when it felt they were meant to quickly and conveniently trigger our sympathy for otherwise empty characters. In the end, Ren and Toby offer nothing new, so, really, they offer nothing.

What’s different in The Year of the Flood is the environment. We stand in the future, and North America has become an exaggerated version of its current worst traits (again, from the acknowledgments page: “The Year of the Flood is fiction, but the general tendencies and many of the details in it are alarmingly close to fact.”). While these worst traits deserve critical literary treatment, we don’t get it here. Instead, in this book Atwood’s clever lexicon that melds the future world with our current world is downright cutesy, reducing all potential depth to mere cleverness for the sake of cleverness.

Government as we know it is nonexistent. Instead, massive corporations have conglomerated and privatized everything. The brand name is “Corporations.” They run the world, careful to keep the profit margin as large as possible. They have a private security force called the Corporation Security Corp, or, as Atwood calls it with her ham-fist: CorpSeCorps. The world is a very materialistic place, and the corporations like that. Keep the pleeblanders (that’s what Atwood calls Orwell’s proles) happy with cosmetics from AnooYoo, with toys from SeksMart, with food from an omnipresent fast-food chain called SecretBurger, “Because Everyone Loves a Secret!” Right up front Atwood explains that the secret is that “no one knew what sort of animal protein was actually in them.” However, within this awful (if comical) future, there is a subversive group called God’s Gardeners that has melded traditional elements of Judeo-Christian religious doctrine with environmentalism and vegetarianism. They call themselves “bioneers.” They take their “Vegivows.” And then there are the hymns. In her “Acknowledgments” page Atwood claims, “The clearest influence on Gardener hymn lyrics is William Blake, with an assist from John Bunyan and also from The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada.” As much as I love the subtlety of Blake’s poetry or the nuance and perspective of Bunyan’s allegories, I certainly couldn’t Atwood’s hymns seriously. Here’s an example from the first hymn:

Who is it tends the Garden,
The Garden oh so green?

‘Twas once the finest Garden
That ever has been seen.

It goes on. Here’s  a bit of the second:

When Adam first had breath of life
All in that golden place,
He dwelt in peace with Bird and Beast,
And knew God face to face.

Man’s Spirit first went forth in speech
To name each Creature dear;
God called to all in Fellowship,
They came without a fear.

 . . . . .

How shrunk, how dwindled, in our times
Creation’s mighty seed –
For Man has broke the fellowship
With murder, lust, and greed.

I don’t care if you believe in the sentiments expressed in these hymns or not, they are not poetic. They don’t do justice to the sentiments express. For many of the hymns I wondered if Atwood did her research in contemporary megachurches to come up with the appropriate amount of bathos. If that is the case — brilliant! But she’s serious. Besides comparing her work to Blake and Bunyan, she has made the hymns available online if anyone would like to use them for “amateur devotional or environmental purposes.” It takes a certain amount of pride to set oneself up as a de facto poet for some movement, but she’s apparently got it. Which might also explain the large cathedral gatherings, promoting the release of this book, where the hymns are sang by a choir.

And now for my real problem with the book: if Atwood had offered something worthy of the cause it pretends to promote, then go to! However, The Year of the Flood is nothing more than a slight thriller masquerading as serious literature. It is unfortunately just as full of stock images and techniques as it is of cutesy futuristic lingo. In its exaggerated portrayal, it does not analyze our current culture. Its only critique is made in blunt and obvious references. Again, the shallow treatment makes it seem as though Atwood is throwing these references in the text not to critique, not to discuss, but rather to come across as important. Here’s one reference topical for us in America. It’s just thrown into the narrative to further show how bad this future is:

Nobody could get public wellness coverage unless they had no money of their own whatsoever.

That’s it. It’s done its job. It’s created the illusion of depth, and, perhaps more importantly, the illusion of commeradery as many readers will think that Atwood so gets it! Here’s a particularly offensive one that exploits Hurricane Katrina to introduce a history for Amanda, who lived in Texas before it was destroyed:

The shelter was a football stadium with tents in it. There was a lot of trading going on: people would do anything for twenty dollars, Amanda said. Then her mother got sick from the drinking water, but Amanda didn’t because she traded for sodas. And there was no medicine, so her mother died. “A lot of people shat to death,” said Amanda. “You should have smelled that place.”

Again, it’s not whether I agree or disagree with Atwood’s underlying claims about our current times; it’s how poorly she deals with them and the sense that they are there as a shortcut to build her ethos.

Where the book settles into a narrative without worrying about throwing in any of these familiar but poorly used motifs, it becomes nothing at all, just a few characters trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. To me, the best speculative fiction is fiction with a real human story, where the environment is merely incidental, where the environment merely allows the author to explore themes more deeply. But here we have an author hung up on her own creativity — the creative future environment is the subject of this book, the characters are secondary, any discussion about how to make the world a better place is tertiary. Were it not for the fact that Atwood’s covenant of silence with Canadian book reviewers who received advance copies, for her cathedral promotional show, for her self-appointment as poet laureate for environmentalism, I would have simply dismissed this book as a poor addition to Atwood’s late period. But if ever there were a book written in bad faith, where a talented author makes a mockery of serious writing while actively promoting it as something profound, it’s this book.

36 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood

  1. Rhys says:

    Trevor ….this is just a call by to say Buenos Dias…..I don’t often have anything much to contribute but I do read your (almost) every word ! !

  2. John Self says:

    Woo hoo! There’s something invigorating about a good rant, isn’t there? Not that your review is as inarticulate or angry as ‘rant’ makes it sound, but still. The whole kerfuffle around the promotion for Year of the Flood put me off it even before I received my copy, although I am now tempted to read it to see if I find it as bad as you did. (Do you reckon now that this was definitely the ‘stinker’ the Booker judges identified among previous winners?)

    Oh and I say all this as a non-Atwood fan. Liked Wilderness Tips, was uncommitted to Surfacing, hated The Robber Bride and couldn’t finish The Handmaid’s Tale (which I found stodgy and portentous) nor The Blind Assassin.

  3. Mrs. Berrett says:

    I had no idea our boys were missing out on something so important! Not to fear, we’re downloading the hymns and switching out the nursery rhyme CD’s.

    You know what really irks me? The cutesey corporations. Unless a product is cute it isn’t marketed as such. Comfort, familiarity, those all work for marketing, but cute really only works for the under 8 crowd. I would never be tempted by a product called “Anooyoo.” It’s cheesey and sounds cheap. It does her position no favor to underestimate the intelligence of the other side.

  4. Trevor says:

    I can’t wait to hear the boys singing when I get home tonight! And while it did grind on me, I hadn’t articulated in my mind the idea that Atwood makes the future so bad that it’s not only unbelievable but does cheapen her own position.

    John, you should have read my first draft! I was actually very indifferent towards the book when I read the last page, but then I just had to read the “Acknowledgments” page and be reminded that Atwood was presenting this novel as something deep and important. It must be the stinker the judges are talking about. I hadn’t read that comment, though. Is it on the Booker forum? (I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting the Booker this year — for Atwood!) Also, what other previous winners published books that didn’t make the long list? Ishiguro’s wasn’t eligible, being a short story collection. They liked Byatt and Coetzee. Could it be anyone else?

  5. Nadia says:

    Wow! What a post! I take it Atwood’s book won’t get your vote for the win! Well, your post was honest and and as usual quite explanatory in what all you did not like. And yours is the first negative review I have read of this book, so I was a bit surprised by it. I have the book on my TBR list and now I can’t wait to read it to see which side I will fall on. Its great to read opposing views because it really does give you quite a bit to ruminate over as you read. Thanks!!

  6. John Self says:

    The other most likely contender, Trevor, is John Banville, whose The Infinities I found to be mildly diverting but a bit pointless, though some critics have found much to praise in it. I didn’t even bother reviewing it as I couldn’t think of anything to say. I don’t think it’s actively bad though, as the Atwood seems to be.

  7. Thank you for a very thoughtful and thorough analysis of this book, judge Trevor. It certainly tends to confirm my feeling that Margaret now regards herself as bigger than her fiction. I will read it if it makes the shortlist, but I am hoping the Real Jury shows the same sense that you have.

    (Incidentally, Barry Unsworth was another Booker previous winner who did not make the shortlist. His book wasn’t good, but I certainly prefer it to the prospect of reading this one.)

  8. Trevor says:

    I forgot about the Unsworth. I was actually looking forward to that review until I read your review. That helped me completely put it out of my mind. Perhaps the mysterious comment is referring to his book.

  9. Sarah says:

    I am so ambivalent now about Margaret Atwood’s books that I wouldn’t read any without searching out a trustworthy opinion first.

    I read Handmaids’s Tale in one sitting, disliked Alias Grace And Cat’s Eye, and remain ambivalent with regard to Surfacing. Oryx and Crake is on the shelf, and I have heard enough good things to give it a go.

    My main sticking point with Atwood is her characterisation, which is rarely engaging. I think I am now unlikely to ever read The Year of the Flood!

  10. Lisa Hill says:

    It sometimes happens that established authors resist being edited, and editors are too scared of their bankable author to insist. This is what happened with Iris Murdoch and her later novels are inferior because of it. Do you think this is what might have happened with Atwood, Trevor?
    Lisa (ANZ LitLovers)

  11. Trevor says:

    Sarah, if you haven’t liked Atwood much lately, you shouldn’t bother with The Year of the Flood. It’s definitely nothing special, and nothing that will change your opinion of her.

    Lisa, it’s possible Atwood has a tentative editor or that she has the power to override the editor and does. Then again, I think that this will be a popular title. It reads smoothly, even if it is convenient and shallow. Perhaps the editor took out all of the good stuff to make it marketable.

    Also, it should be noted that Atwood has received better reviews elsewhere. Michiko Kakutani, while not giving it a great review, at least said it was good and not preachy, as Atwood as been in the past. I’m not sure what book she read. Sure the plot, getting the characters from A to B, by whatever means, takes precedence over the idealogy, but part of that is because Atwood assumes her ideas need no interesting discussion. To me, that’s a fault. A good author can have a compelling story line (which this one isn’t) and a good discussion (which this one doesn’t). Plus, Atwood’s promotion of the book makes me assume that she never intended it to be a mere story — this is supposed to be profound instruction. I never know which side of the fence Ms. Kakutani will end up on in her book reviews. I certainly can’t predict when she’ll like or hate a book. I’ve never really got her criteria, and I think she’s wrong here.

  12. Margaret Atwood is a writer of tired and rehashed science fiction cliches, who due to her being reviewed by and large only in the literary rather than sf press gets away with plots and ideas so hoary my grandfather would have recognised them (well, had he read sf that is).

    I find it extraordinary how, time after time with her novels, I see ideas being hailed as interesting or original that in all seriousness were being regarded as overdone in science fiction by the 1960s.

    To make matters worse, she comes up with this nonsensical speculative fiction concept, insisting against all the evidence of her plots that she’s not an sf writer. Bizarrely, it seems to work, even though she is in fact quite straightforwardly a science fiction writer – she even shares the common genre trait of prioritising ideas over character. She’s just made up some bizarre definition of science fiction, that it must include something not possible now, which is a purely self-serving definition based as best I can tell on genre snobbery – speculative fiction as best I can tell is simply a marketing term Atwood employs that allows literary readers to read sf without feeling embarassed about it and that avoids her getting stuck in the less fashionable section of the bookstore.

    She’s a talented writer, which has let her get away for a very long time with frankly trite ideas, only unfamiliar to her readership because her readership are unfamiliar with her genre.

    Anyway, all that aside (can you tell I’m not a fan?), great review Trevor.

  13. Trevor says:

    can you tell I’m not a fan?

    You had me wondering, Max! I am glad to get your opinion on the matter too, because I’ve always been a little bit confused about her “speculative fiction” category. I get it, but I’ve wondered how it differed from much sci-fi. I see it doesn’t, unless it’s because her fiction never has much of a scientific angle and more of a socio-political angle. That’s how I’d been making the distinction.

    One thing I’m wondering about, though, are there any fans of Atwood’s later stuff out there? I’m not looking for an argument, but I’m surprised to see that here and on KFC’s blog no one is really sticking up for her, even to say, “Well, I liked it.” I am surprised to find so many people are disenchanted, if they ever were enchanted.

  14. Max: I agree completely with your analysis and complaint that Atwood seems to want to deny what she is. My own view is that she feels she has moved beyond being a writer (and hence deserves her own category) and has moved into a Hubbardian mode where she is creating a movement, perhaps even a religion. That shows in the bizarre hymns, the cathedral events and the bags and instructions about what kind of coffee we should consume. That’s where I think Lisa’s question about an editor has some validity — in fact, Peggy is not only beyond being edited, she is telling her publishers internationally how she will allow her “books” (really her politics) to be promoted.

    Trevor: I suspect the readers and admirers of Atwood’s later work are not active literary book bloggers (note that dovegreyreader’s three-part posting on the Ely Cathedral event brought far fewer comments than dgr normally gets). As well, this book was released only in late August and I suspect some of her most devoted later fans haven’t got to it yet.

  15. It’s always dangerous when an author becomes too powerful to be edited, bilge is often not far behind. Pagecount often bloats too. The importance of editors is too easily underrated (though not here).

    Trevor, if I were minded to use the term, I would distinguish speculative fiction and science fiction by suggesting that speculative focused more on some possible future in which human issues rather than ideas about the nature of humanity or the cosmos were to the fore, one in which there was little consideration of as yet undeveloped technologies or discoveries and where the change to a future venue was to permit a more uncluttered exploration of some present or timeless question. The socio-political as opposed to scientific, as you say.

    The Road springs to mind, which is on my TBR pile. It’s set in an unspecified future, but my impression is that it’s success is in its close examination of the father-son relationship (I recall your review speaking to that) and that it has no real interest in credible future worldbuilding. To read it hoping for good post-apocalyptic sf would I fear lead to disappointment. In a technical sense it’s within the science fiction genre, but I doubt any of us would approach it on that basis.

    That said, for me the socio-political aspect is something sf has always done, those stories have always been part of the genre (along of course with the scientific stuff and much else). My concern is that if the more literary SF gets tagged as speculative, the accusation that science fiction isn’t literary becomes self-fulfilling. If when it’s literary we call it something else, science fiction becomes by definition not literary.

    All that said, the use that I believe Atwood employs is one that allows those who are part of the genre or who do in fact enjoy it to do so without admitting to something they regard as low rent. Essentially, snobbery. I don’t think it reflects well on her.

    I read the other day a comment by John Banville, responding to accusations that he looked down on crime fiction (which I don’t believe he does). He said that what matters is not genre, but whether a book is good writing or bad writing. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, and it’s a sentence Atwood could usefully remind herself of.

  16. Colette Jones says:

    I barely got through a few pages of this book before closing it and giving it back to the library. I hate hate hate the company names, and it was just way too stupid that the girls had boy names and the boys had girl names. Actually, I didn’t read far enough to see if that really was the case throughout but Atwood used way too big of a sledge-hammer from page one. Not for me. (I have only read one other Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale, which I really liked.)

  17. Well I certainly went to The Year of the Flood event in the most cynical frame of mind imaginable, seriously worried about so many aspects of this book, and yet I emerged from Ely Cathedral completely ‘won over’ by Margaret Atwood, so perhaps this book somehow works in performance far better than on the page and I’ve just been brainwashed :-)

  18. Trevor says:

    I’m glad you came to look here, dgr. You’re the only person whose account of the performance I’ve read. Your pictures on your blog definitely make it look like Atwood is charming, and I have no doubt she means well.

    When you say “won over” though, did she make you like this book more for its ideas or for its execution? I really don’t mind her ideas; I never like a book that is purely polemic and I think she did a good job keeping the polemical tone down. My problem was with the execution itself. I felt she didn’t do her ideas justice. I’d rather read a half-hearted column dealing with these issues than this story. Perhaps in the performance it comes together better.

  19. Wow. I had no idea there were people who disliked Atwood so much. I’ve only heard good things.

    Well written review, but I will have to disagree overall. Firstly, I think it is unfair to pass judgment on YOTF without first having read Oryx and Crake. Part of the reason I liked Flood so much was the return to familiar characters and the new perspective it shed on them and their actions. There are some great reveals in Flood that you would not otherwise pick up on.

    It seems some of your gripes stem from personal opinions about Atwood herself and the way this book has been marketed. I know nothing about Atwood outside of her novels. Other than her speculative stuff (which I love,) I’ve only read Blind Assassin. The rest I have branded what I call “lady books.” I get a bit of a backlash vibe from all this, despite your disclaimers of liking her past work.

    Any other complaints are valid, but don’t seem like reason enough to tear this book to shreds. I’d like to think I have a pretty good radar, but I didn’t pick up on an ounce of pretension. Again, I think this might have something to do with your knowledge of her as a public figure, not the writing itself.

    I’ve got a review of the novel myself, up at chuckpalahniuk.net. It probable doesn’t work as a point by point rebuttal to yours, but feel free to check it out.

    http://chuckpalahniuk.net/reviews/the-year-of-the-flood

  20. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the alternate opinion, thejamminjabber. I definitely wanted to hear whether or not this book stood up better with Oryx and Crake in the background, though I’ve heard from some people who still didn’t like this book after reading Oryx.

    And you are very correct that much if not most of my revulsion to this novel was Atwood’s pretensions to pass it off as something more than it is (that’s not to say my dislike of the novel is based on that). I didn’t think the book was overly polemical or pretentious in and of itself. She definitely is not straining to get the story across, and her prose is only showy when she uses those cute future appellations.

    But while reading the book, I wasn’t thinking about her ego, honestly. I was only thinking of how well it was working on its own as a book. It didn’t hold up for me, for many of the reasons I stated above, and those are separate from Atwood’s ego. However, I definitely can understand why others could find value in it, especially others who have read Oryx and Crake. When I finished the book, I was basically indifferent, marking it off as a failed attempt by a better writer, something that happens often. But that “acknowledgments” page . . . My indifference turned quickly into some real heat. Nevertheless, had she written a book that supported her ego, I wouldn’t have responded in this way.

  21. Trevor says:

    Here’s some interesting breaking news: The Year of the Flood did not make the Giller short list. Makes me wonder if its inclusion on the long list was more of a kind gesture to a Canadian literary legend (as she should be remembered).

  22. Mrs. Berrett says:

    This may be a personal preference, but I think it’s a huge failing when an author’s book must rely on a past book to be understood. If the characters depend on another book to develop them, then this book has a serious flaw.
    That’s not to say I have a problem with series, I enjoy prolonged stories. However, the best series are those where each book stands on its own.
    Several writers have managed to integrate characters into multiple stories while still allowing each story independence. Failure to do so, in my opinion, is failure to give the story the necessary time and development a good book needs.
    In short, if it relies on Oryx and Crake to be understood, then I don’t think it deserved to be on the list in the first place.

  23. I wouldn’t say it relies on it, but it does make it that much more enjoyable.

  24. Trevor –
    I’ve been looking forward to reading your review (I avoided it while I was reading the book myself). I think your comments are, on the whole, spot on. But I also really enjoyed the book. Atwood’s whole book promotion tour was just creepy. And I listened to the audio book – so if you think those hymns were awful to read – you should have heard them performed! It was painful. And I also found that the way characters were connected without know it got a bit contrived. But I also think representing The Year of the Flood as being a book that could be read without Oryx and Crake was a HUGE marketing mistake. It’s basically a companion book that clarifies and expands the story from the first book. It answers a lot of what was left vague… and without that point to reference back on I’m not surprised you didn’t enjoy it. I found it to be more of a book about discovery – where you get to make connections the characters are unable to make. And that’s what was so much fun about it in my opinion.

  25. Trevor says:

    Thanks for your comments, tolmsted. Did this book make Oryx more enjoyable or is it enjoyable because of Oryx? In other words, does Oryx need this book as much as this one needed it? I’m not sure I’m convinced this book is necessary, I guess. Definitely thanks for coming back and leaving a comment :).

  26. Good question. I had mixed feelings about “Oryx” when I first read it. I felt it left way too many loose ends, unnecessarily so, that “Year of the Flood” tied up (or at the very least fleshed out) nicely. I think each book provides valuable insight into the other.

    And I’m not just speaking about the ending, which left off in “Oryx” with Jimmie getting ready to approach the 3 people (who we find out in the new book are Amanda & the two pain ballers). Throughout “Oryx” I just got the feeling that Jimmie was pretty clueless about what was going on. And like “Year”, it had its faults.

    What’s interesting is that Atwood is actually planning a third book. (Please don’t shoot the messenger!) “Oryx” was a view of the situation from inside the Compounds, and “Year” was from the perspective of the Pleeblands – this next book she has said will be from the people who were inside Mad Adam – the sub-culture/revolutionary underground. I really enjoyed the fact of how this one event is being explored – because, if you think about it, no one person or group could have the whole story to tell after such an event. And no one person or group could be solely responsible. I also kind of like following the chain of what happened – God’s Gardeners led to Mad Adam, which eventually led to Crake. Talk about good intentions gone wrong!

  27. This is a really insightful review. I think Oryx and Crake was a much better written book, but still missing depth and nuance. Reading the internal narratives of Toby and especially Ren was exasperating and sometimes painful because their “voices” were so forced. Atwood’s real gift is her ability to create such a visually startling and believable future environment, and I couldn’t help thinking that these novels would make great movies.

  28. And if you’re not sick of thinking about this book, my alternate opinion review is here:
    http://www.urbanphantom.com/2009/12/bear-book-review-year-of-flood-oryx-and.html

  29. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the link UP. I haven’t read your review yet, but I will. I’m not that sick of discussing this book, actually. I’m still baffled by it. It is beyond me, but it was listed in the December 14 New Yorker “Reviewers’ favorites from 2009″ feature. And it was one of The New York Times‘s Notable Books (not that they have great methodology for coming up with their list).

  30. Tulligator says:

    Just finished The Year of the Flood. Do you have any idea how hard I had to dig to find a negative review? Thank you for telling it like it is. Ham fisted indeed!!! Sea/H/Ear Candy? I wanted to stop reading the first time I saw that. Atwood is not good at speculative fiction, but damn it she sure is pretentious.

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