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Book Review: Year of the Flood

BY BEN EVANS | SEPTEMBER 30, 2009 7:20 AM

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Imagine a world in which a murderous virus has destroyed almost every shred of human life. Now, picture that there is nothing to eat but strange, foreign animals with names that seem to come straight out of a bad PCP trip. This is the world Margaret Atwood illustrates in her latest book, The Year of the Flood.

The novel centers on survivors of what is referred to as the “Waterless Flood,” the same apocalyptic catastrophe that took place at the end of Atwood’s 2003 masterpiece Oryx and Crake. In The Year of the Flood, this event acts as both the end and the beginning, bringing to light humanity’s inner struggle to endure.

For Atwood’s characters, their survival instinct serves as a perpetual drive — every day and every decision is a struggle.

The story begins with Toby, a woman left abandoned to fend for herself after the flood in a deserted wasteland of a once overpopulated city. Her memories lead the reader through a past of religious rebels and sex-crazed sinners, revealing a chaotic future that, when viewed through the looking glass of today, is not a far stretch from reality.

One of the sinners, a pole dancer named Ren, is also isolated from the chemical flood and survives only to find the dangers of the world have multiplied. Strange animals, crosses between opposites like pigoons and liobams, roam the Earth in search of food in the form of human flesh or scraps of stray dog the vultures have yet to eat.

The two characters’ lives and memories mesh, telling the story of Oryx and Crake from a completely different view. They reveal details about the main characters from Atwood’s 2003 novel (Jimmy and Crake) that could only be seen through the eyes of outsiders.

Atwood’s commentary on real-world corruption and human nature is rife through the book’s themes. She forces readers to compare their own world to the worlds of Toby and Ren, both pre-apocalypse and post.

The author also touches on such profound issues as love and loneliness while maintaining a sense of intrigue that only the best writers can produce. However, The Year of the Flood results in a rather dry description of obsessive love (in stark contrast to Oryx and Crake’s narration of Jimmy’s love affair with the seductive Oryx).

Instead, Toby and Ren are tools to illustrate an uncommon humanity and compassion. Atwood paints a picture of human connection, beyond touch and capability, as a necessity to human survival. It is through this union that she relates the condemned in contrast with the characters fighting for retribution.

Atwood’s work is undeniable. Her intuitive sense of the human essence seems to be growing with each novel she writes. In The Year of the Flood, her view of society’s future has matured from a fortune teller’s lullaby to a prophet’s vision. The frightening aspect of this book is its basis in reality, and its beauty shines in its depiction of the unusual connection between two lost souls. Atwood’s writing depicts a future that would strike fear into the heart of any humane citizen of the world.


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