Synopses & Reviews
The long-awaited new novel from Margaret Atwood. The Year of the Flood
is a dystopic masterpiece and a testament to her visionary power.
The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners — a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life — has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.
Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers....
Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can't stay locked away...
By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful, and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most brilliant and inventive.
"In her 2002 speculative novel, Oryx and Crake
, Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopic planet tumbling toward apocalypse. The world she envisaged was in the throes of catastrophic climate change, its wealthy inhabitants dwelling in sterile secure compounds, its poor ones in the dangerous 'pleeblands' of decaying inner cities. Mass extinctions had taken place, while genetic experiments had populated the planet with strange new breeds of animal: liobams, Mo'Hairs, rakunks. At the end of the book, we left its central character, Jimmy, in the aftermath of a devastating man-made plague, as he wondered whether to befriend or attack a ragged band of strangers. The novel seemed complete, closing on a moment of suspense, as though Atwood was content simply to hint at the direction life would now take. In her profoundly imagined new book, The Year of the Flood
, she revisits that same world and its catastrophe. Like Oryx and Crake
, Year of the Flood
begins just after the catastrophe and then tracks back in time over the corrupt and degenerate world that preceded it. But while the first novel focused on the privileged elite in the compounds and the morally bankrupt corporations, The Year of the Flood
depicts more of the world of the pleebs, an edgy no-man's land inhabited by criminals, sex workers, dropouts and the few individuals who are trying to resist the grip of the corporations.The novel centers on the lives of Ren and Toby, female members of a fundamentalist sect of Christian environmentalists, the God's Gardeners. Led by the charismatic Adam One, whose sermons and eco-hymns punctuate the narrative, the God's Gardeners are preparing for life after the prophesied Waterless Flood. Atwood plays some of their religion for laughs: their hymns have a comically bouncing, churchy rhythm, and we learn that both Ren and Toby have been drawn toward the sect for nonreligious reasons. Yet the gentleness and benignity of the Gardeners is a source of hope as well as humor. As absurd as some of their beliefs appear, Atwood seems to be suggesting that they're a better option than the naked materialism of the corporations.This is a gutsy and expansive novel, rich with ideas and conceits, but overall it's more optimistic than Oryx and Crake
. Its characters have a compassion and energy lacking in Jimmy, the wounded and floating lothario at the previous novel's center.Each novel can be enjoyed independently of the other, but what's perhaps most impressive is the degree of connection between them. Together, they form halves of a single epic. Characters intersect. Plots overlap. Even the tiniest details tessellate into an intricate whole. In the final pages, we catch up with Jimmy once more, as he waits to encounter the strangers. This time around, Atwood commits herself to a dramatic and hopeful denouement that's in keeping with this novel's spirit of redemption.
Signature Reviewe by Marcel Theroux. Marcel Theroux's most recent novel, Far North, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in June." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Atwood's mischievous, suspenseful, and sagacious dystopian novel follows the trajectory of current environmental debacles to a shattering possible conclusion with passionate concern and arch humor." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Another stimulating dystopia from this always-provocative author, whose complex, deeply involving characters inhabit a bizarre yet frighteningly believable future." Kirkus Reviews
"Another win for Atwood, this dystopian fantasy belongs in the hands of every highbrow sf aficionado and anyone else who claims to possess a social conscience." Library Journal
"Is it possible to prevent a planet-scale ecocatastrophe? What would the consequences of preventing such an event be? Would those consequences be acceptable? Iconic Canadian author Margaret Atwood has once again written about a distressingly near future in which mass murder may be the best way to save the world." Nisi Shawl, Ms. Magazine
(read the entire Ms. Magazine review
The long-awaited new novel from the author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin, The Year of the Flood is a dystopic masterpiece and a testament to Atwood's visionary power.
About the Author
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her novels include The Edible Woman, Surfacing, The Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace and the winner of the Booker Prize, The Blind Assassin. Her work is acclaimed internationally and has been translated into thirty-three languages. She is the recipient of many literary awards and honors from various countries, including Britain, Italy, France, Sweden, and Norway, as well as Canada and the United States. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.
Reading Group Guide
1. How does the friendship between Amanda and Ren grow, despite their differences and the restrictions they face? They meet as children. Who was your greatest ally when you were that age? What do you think of Ren's treatment of Bernice?
2. What survival skills do the novel's female characters possess? Do they find security or vulnerability at Scales and Tales, the AnooYoo Spa, and within the community of Gardeners? What strength does Pilar find in nature, while Lucerne is drawn to artificial beauty?
3. How do Adam One's motivations compare to Zeb's? In their world, what advantages do men have? Are they really “advantages”?
4. Discuss Toby's parents and their fate. What does their story illustrate about the dangers of an unregulated and corrupt drug industry? What motivates Toby to become a healer?
5. How does Adam One's explanation of creation and the fall of humanity compare to more standard Judeo-Christian ideas? What does he offer his followers, beyond an understanding of the planet and the creatures that inhabit it?
6. Discuss the father figures in Ren's life: her stepfather, Zeb; her biological father, Frank; and eventually Mordis. What did they teach her about being a woman? How did they shape her expectations of Jimmy?
7. As a refugee from Texas, Amanda is an outsider, facing constant risk. Would you have harbored her? Why is Ren so impressed by her?
8. What is the result of a penal system like Painball? How does it influence the citizens' attitude toward crime?
9. Should Toby have honored Pilar's deathbed wish that she become an Eve? How did the lessons in beekeeping serve Toby in other ways as well?
10. Crake's BlyssPlus pill offers many false promises. What are they, and what was Crake really striving for (chapter 73)? If human beings are the greatest problem for the natural world, could they also provide solutions less drastic than Crake's? How?
11. In what ways do the novel's three voices—Toby's, Ren's, and Adam One's—complement one another? What unique perspective is offered in each narration?
12. Explore the lyrics from The God's Gardeners Oral Hymnbook. What do they say about the Gardener theology and the nature of their faith? Adam One does not always tell the truth to his congregation. Is well-meant lying ever acceptable?
13. Margaret Atwood's fiction often displays “gallows humor.” Can a thing be dire and funny at the same time? Must we laugh or die?
14. The Year of the Flood covers the same time period as Oryx and Crake, and contains a number of the same characters — (“Snowman,” a student at the Martha Graham Academy and “the last man on earth”) and Glenn (“Crake,” who studied at the Watson-Crick Institute), as well as Bernice, Jimmy's hostile college room-mate, Amanda, a live-in artist girlfriend, Ren (“Brenda,”) whom he remembers briefly in Oryx and Crake as a high-school fling, Jimmy's mother, who runs away to become an activist, and the God's Gardeners, whom he mentions as a fringe green cult. Re-read the final pages of both books. What do you predict for the remaining characters? Should the Gardeners execute the Painballers? Why? Why not? Would you?
15. What parallels did you see between The Year of the Flood and current headlines?
In this long-awaited new novel, Margaret Atwood brilliantly envisions what could happen if we continue on the dangerous path of disrespect for the environment-and for one another. The questions and topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading experience and to generate lively discussion.