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Customer Review

246 of 260 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret Atwood makes me want to stick my head in the sand..., July 30, 2009
This review is from: The Year of the Flood: A Novel (Hardcover)
I know that sounds bad, but her dystopian visions are so profoundly disturbing, I find they influence my thinking forever after. Say what you will--her nightmares are not easy to dismiss!

Readers of 2003's Oryx and Crake will recognize the world of The Year of the Flood. Neither a prequel nor a sequel, the latter is more of a companion novel. It's set in the same world, covering roughly the same time span. Whereas Oryx and Crake was a post-apocalyptic narrative told from Jimmy's point of view, here the narrators are Toby and Ren. Jimmy, Oryx, and Crake make appearances in this novel, and readers of both books will discovered minor characters from the former novel are major characters in the latter. In short, the two are intertwined, but may be read in any order. It is not necessary to have read Oryx and Crake first, though ultimately reading them both is an immensely satisfying experience, shedding light on many aspects of the story being told.

Now to the story...Toby and Ren have both spent significant portions of their lives involved with a fringe religious group called God's Gardeners. Ren was brought to the ascetic group as a child by her mother. Toby found her way there out of desperation in adulthood. Each has professed disbelief in the tenets of the religion, but the pacifistic and environmental teachings have become deeply ingrained in both. At the opening of the novel, it is Year Twenty-Five in the God's Gardeners' calendar; the Year of the Waterless Flood.

From the beginning, the group's prophet-like leader had preached that a "waterless flood" was coming to wipe out humanity. In addition to their dogmatic environmentalism, the group believed in preparing for this flood with survival skills and food caches called "Ararats." The predicted day has come in the form of a global pandemic. Society has broken down completely. From their respective places of isolation, each woman wonders if she may be the last human left and struggles to survive in this altered world.

As everyone knows, there's nothing like apocalypse to make a person introspective. As each woman reflects upon the ups and downs of her life with the Gardeners and beyond, the reader gradually gleans a fuller picture of the world these women lived in, their individual and joint histories, what led to cataclysm, and what has ultimately happened to the world.

As one might expect from Atwood, The Year of the Flood is a beautiful telling of an ugly story. And what a story it is! In addition to being very much a novel of ideas, it is an utterly un-put-downable page-turner! It's a quick read, with short chapters and lots of white space on the pages. The novel flies by. The ending is satisfying and unsatisfying at once. It sheds some light on Oryx and Crake's enigmatic conclusion and completes this arc of the story, but leaves this reader very much hoping for a final volume of this rumored trilogy.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 31, 2009 6:47:45 PM PDT
I am a huge fan of Atwood and looking forward to this one. Terrific review--it solidifies what I anticipate. BTW, is this an ARC you received? From the publisher?

Posted on Aug 1, 2009 9:27:10 AM PDT
Susan Tunis says:
Hi Switterbug,

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I think this is the best book I've read this year. You'll love it. And, yes, I received a galley from the publisher.

Susan

Posted on Aug 12, 2009 4:20:41 PM PDT
Your review title and first paragraph reflect my sentiments toward Atwood entirely. Thank you for writing what I had not quite verbalized about her work. She looks unflinchingly at what I numbly dread, and writes as you say, "a beautiful tale of an ugly story." I'd not known of this new book at all, and in writing a friend about Oryx and Crake, I looked Atwood up here on Amazon only to find this new book beckoning. Thank you for a great review, by the way. Makes me want to read it even more!

Dawn

Posted on Aug 12, 2009 8:31:57 PM PDT
i agree with switterbug, not only is orxy and crake one of my all time favorite books, but i found myself wondering what the characters are doing, like they are people i actually know. i have never had this reaction to a book. i would kill to get an advance copy of this book...hint, hint, hint. i had no idea that the new book was related to o and c, so i am even more excited to read it.

wonderful review, btw.

Posted on Aug 13, 2009 12:02:27 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 13, 2009 12:24:46 AM PDT
Susan Tunis says:
Hi Dawn & Natasha,

Thank you both for your kind words. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Incidentally, you won't see that much of the characters from O&C. This is sort of a retelling of the same time, from a very different perspective. It may be even better. Oh, and a friend already made me mail my copy to her, LOL. It'll be in bookstores before you know it.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. :-)

Posted on Oct 25, 2009 7:36:03 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 25, 2009 7:37:07 PM PDT]

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 4:32:07 PM PST
Susan Tunis says:
I enjoyed reading this article published in the Shelf Awareness newsletter on November 16, 2009, and thought you might enjoy reading it, too.

* * *
Margaret Atwood on Her "Simultanuel," The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood, appearing at Austin's Paramount Theater on Friday afternoon, October 31, at the Texas Book Festival, took out her iPhone and snapped a photo of her moderator, Benjamin Moser, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector and also the new books columnist for Harper's magazine. (You can see that photo and more on her tour blog.) Moser seemed surprised by how tech-savvy his guest was. "I can help you do Twitpics," Atwood told Moser. "That sounds kinky," Moser replied. "A lot of this is," said Atwood. She admitted that writing a blog was "hellish. It's hard to keep up," she said. "But I made a vow back in August." On Twitter, her tweets are often playful (see her Mole-a-Teer-themed entries), but she also recently offered writing tips.

Atwood described The Year of the Flood (Knopf, September) as a "simultanuel"--a phrase "I've just invented"--to her earlier speculative novel Oryx and Crake, set in the year Twenty-Five, when much of the human race has been wiped out by global warming and a pandemic. To a packed house at the Paramount, she explained: "Remember in Victorian novels, you'd come to a chapter called 'Meanwhile'? It was taking place at the same time as what you'd read in the chapter before, with different characters. You knew they'd meet up eventually." She waited for the audience's laughter to die down, then added, "So it's the meanwhile book to Oryx and Crake." Moser asked, "Did you know you wanted to write it?" "No, I wish I had. I wanted to about a week later," Atwood said.

While Oryx and Crake focused on the elite who dwelled securely within a sterile barricaded compound, The Year of the Flood follows the walled-out citizens. For her God's Gardeners cult in Flood, Atwood turned to the constructs of religion, with its "special foods, special days and clothing codes," as she put it. The Gardeners' clothes, for instance, must be recycled. "I never solved the shoe problem, though. I'm open to suggestions," she threw out to the audience. "Leather is against their religion. I don't suppose there's a vegetarian shoestore?"

"God's Gardeners are progressive but also fundamentalists," Moser observed. Atwood suggested that these two things are not at odds: "They do have an ideology and it works for them," she said, and discussed how this related to the question she posed to Richard Dawkins when they were both guests for the "Darwin Special" on the BBC's Newsnight Review: "What if religion is an evolved adaptation that we acquired because it gave us an evolutionary edge in the 80,000 generations we spent in the Pleistocene?" (On that program, Dawkins agreed that there is "an evolutionary basis for religious belief.") Atwood continued, "It's not whether you have a religion, but a question of what kind you'll have." Each has its own music, language and a narrative built in; for Flood, she wrote the lyrics to 14 hymns and, "by sheer accident," according to Atwood, "a friend composed the music for the 14 hymns and now it's a CD."

She suggested that "Real religion is what [its followers] spend most of their time doing," and listed some examples: Baptists sing well; Unitarians "rewrote the Word but weren't enthusiasts"; Presbyterians have stern hymns, versus Episcopalians' Christmas carols. She claimed that "Episcopalians have the best funerals," and that Catholics are known for their atoning and "a sparkling place for ritual." According to Atwood, "[Religions] are all used to form a theory about humans' relationship to the natural world."

When Moser opened up the discussion to questions from the audience, a woman said, "I've never seen a happy ending in your books." Atwood replied, "You find happy endings in children's books. Children need to know that such things are possible." She continued, "We want to leave Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in that big house. Such endings are not altogether plausible anymore. In defense of my endings--I never ended with everyone laid out on the floor. I leave the door open--I have not closed it in any single book." Fans who believe that her books are bleak might be surprised by how funny she is: "For those of you who say, 'Isn't it dark?'" Atwood added, "It's a lot cheerier than the end of Hamlet."--Jennifer M. Brown

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2010 8:10:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 30, 2010 8:14:29 AM PST
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