three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Year of the Flood

The Story: In Oryx and Crake, after a postapocalyptic Waterless Flood, Crake had bioengineered a new species, the Crakers. At the end of that novel, the Crakers, a few humans, Jimmy the Snowman, and gene-spliced forms of life (such as the "liobam," a lion-lamb fusion) remain, and a brutal private security firm has seized power. The Year of the Flood takes place concurrently with Oryx and Crake, but it tells the parallel stories of two human survivors: Ren, a young dancer trapped inside a high-end sex club, and Toby, a God’s Gardener locked inside an upscale spa. Through their backstories, Atwood explores the violence, sexual depravity, and trauma leading up to this new world; the rise of the God’s Gardeners, an idealistic sect merging science and religion that is determined to preserve all plant and animal life; and the love that can blossom among such terrible devastation.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 434 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385528771

Guardian 4 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps on the principle that since everything in her novel is possible and may have already happened so the reader is familiar with it, the author doles out useful information sparingly. … Perhaps the book is not an affirmation at all, only a lament, a lament for what little was good about human beings—affection, loyalty, patience, courage—ground down into the dust by our overweening stupidity and monkey cleverness and crazy hatefulness." Ursula K. Le Guin

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Atwood wants to provoke, not to depress or alienate readers. So she courts us with her puckish wit, holds us spellbound with suspense, and then confronts us with harrowing and tragic scenarios." Donna Seaman

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"A kind of companion piece to her lumpy 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, this book takes us back to that post-apocalyptic future and it does so with a lot more energy, inventiveness and narrative panache. … By focusing on her characters and their perilous journeys through a nightmare world, she has succeeded in writing a gripping and visceral book that showcases the pure storytelling talents she displayed with such verve in her 2000 novel, The Blind Assassin." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In this strangely lonely book, where neither love nor romance changes the narrative, friendship of a real and lasting and risk-taking kind stands against the emotional emptiness of the money/sex/power/consumer world of CorpSEcorps. … Atwood knows how to show us ourselves, but the mirror she holds up to life does more than reflect—it’s like one of those mirrors made with mercury that gives us both a deepening and a distorting effect, allowing both the depths of human nature and its potential mutations." Jeanette Winterson

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are best read in tandem. … Throughout her complicated and rather sensationalistic plunge into the nefarious uses of science and technology, Atwood unflinchingly holds aloft the sanctity of life—for all species—and the human quest for love as not only venerable qualities, but as the unexpectedly principal elements of her story." Rayyan Al-Shawaf

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The focus on women … is familiar. But Atwood’s satiric laser pierces many other concerns, like the environment, violence and religious intolerance. Her brilliance dazzles, but there are so many targets, so many characters, so many jokes that we’re more blinded than enlightened." Kathy Ewing

Times (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"Is [the novel] an attempt to ‘push popular sentiment in a biosphere-friendly direction’ (in the words of Adam One, the head Gardener)? Is it a deep ecological-extinction dream, by an author well known for her environmental activism? Or a splendidly black farce? Unclear." Robert Macfarlane

Critical Summary

As in Oryx and Crake, Atwood imbues The Year of the Flood with her deep, dramatic vision of the devastation wrought by our destruction of Earth. Most critics bought into this richly envisioned cautionary tale, "part Hieronymus Bosch, part A Clockwork Orange" (New York Times), while acknowledging its improbabilities. Despite the novel’s clear, bleak message, most also found it less didactic than her companion book. Like previous works, the relationships between women form the true heart of the novel. Despite the book’s power, some reviewers voiced complaints about the geographical and historical abstractions; the unfocused wit; the self-important tone; and the lush detail, "often to the point of morbid silliness" (Times). But as the New York Times Book Review pointed out, perhaps "the flaws … are part of the pleasure, as they are with human beings, that species so threatened by its own impending suicide and held up here for us to look at, mourn over, laugh at and hope for."