May. 6th, 2010

tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

We're using up the Earth, it's almost gone. You can't live with such fears and keep on whistling. The waiting builds up in you like a tide. You start wanting to be done with. You find yourself saying to the sky, Just do it. Do your worst. Get it over with.

I was so excited about reading this book, Atwood is one of my all-time favourite writers and her previous novel, Oryx and Crake is one of my all-time favourite books. Set in the same dystopian world that feels disturbingly close to our own in places, it could be said that The Year of the Flood is a sequel to Oryx and Crake but that wouldn't be quite accurate, at least not in the conventional sense. Neither is it a prequel. Rather it covers pretty much the same time period as its predecessor but from a very different point of view. The God's Gardeners are a religious sect who seek to combine science and religion (with varying degrees of persuasiveness) and make it their mission to live off the land and tend to nature in their rooftop gardens; their lifestyle is a radical alternative to either the artificial, consumerist orgy of the upper classes who live sequestered in sanitised compounds or the desperate hedonism and struggle for dwindling resources faced by the lower classes in the urban "Pleeblands." Adam One, the kindly leader of the cult has long warned of the coming of the Great Flood, a "waterless flood" that would wreak great havoc to the human race. The novel is largely set after that flood, the same ravaging infection described and artificially created in Oryx and Crake. While that novel was told from a predominantly male perspective, both the - very different - narrators here are female. Toby is a Gardener who has survived the flood by hiding herself in a health clinic where many of the products are edible, while Ren is a high-class sex worker locked in the seclusion unit of Scales and Tails, an exclusive club and brothel. Both women use their isolation to reflect on their pasts, the chain of events that brought them to this point, and wonder if any of their former friends and foes have also survived.

Many of the characters from the first novel also feature here, though in less central roles. And through Ren, Atwood offers a very different perspective on Jimmy, the main character from Oryx and Crake. I really enjoyed the interesting interplay between the two novels. I think the world building is solid enough that either could stand alone and be enjoyed separately but together they are even more powerful, although reading this did make me realise just how much of the detail of the first novel I'd forgotten with time (it was years ago I read it) so I'm currently in the process of rereading Oryx and Crake. If I have any criticisms of Flood it's that the world building is almost a little too thorough, or that too much of that background creation process is foregrounded here. Atwood has spent tremendous time and effort compiling the mythology and beliefs of the Gardener cult. Most chapters of the book are prefaced by their hymns (which read like a GreenPeace protester channelling William Blake) and by sermons from Adam One. These spark some really interesting ideas but sometimes the novel feels a little overwhelmed by them and the action, which is essentially a tense piece of futuristic survivor fiction, sometimes feels swamped by these religious inserts. Overall, though, a great book from a woman who well deserves that over-used accolade 'one of our greatest living writers.'

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tispity: Vanquisher character from Torchlight (Default)
tispity

September 2010

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