Year of the Flood, The

by Margaret Atwood

6/10

By the end of the first 100 pages I was thinking, “Alright, this is pretty cool background on the world of Oryx and Crake, and it seems like it’s starting to pick up. . .”

Then the next 100 pages happened and I was thinking, “Hmm, still more background, okay. . . but hey at least we got a glimpse of Snowman and the Crakers.”

Then the rest of the book happened, ending with the characters just a few hours after the “Oryx” cliffhanger, and I was thinking, “Hmmmmmm. . . the book was titled ‘The Year of the Flood’ but over 3/4 of it took place before the titular flood.  Where’s the rest?”

And that about sums up my feelings.

It was a little like “Oryx” in that sense, that very little happened in the “present” time as opposed to everything we learned about the years leading up to that present.  But it more or less worked in “Oryx,” besides being sort of confusing.  It worked because the backstory in that book was totally new and unique.

In “Year,” though, it’s a backstory we’ve more or less been through already.  Furthermore, the way Atwood structured this novel — with the two protagonists quarantined until after p.300 — it ends up being a book that is chiefly backstory.  I kept waiting for it to get going.  In fact I’m still waiting.

I’m still waiting because it’s still a compelling world that Atwood has created.  And the characters intersect neatly with those of “Oryx and Crake,” although it is really too neat if you think about it for long enough.

In other words, all the key characters that either cause or survive the end of the world and the dawn of the new one were already random acquaintances (or long-lost lovers) in the old one.  They all either attended the same of three or four institutions or lived near each other.  Every place of import in the end of civilization — AnooYoo, ReJoov, the God’s Gardener’s, MaddAddam, Scales & Tails, the relevant pleeblands — appears to lie within the same 100 mile radius, which also is right near a beach, which is all in some unnamed location on the East Coast.  It makes the two books stop feeling like an attempt at realistic speculative fiction and more like a very interesting allegory.

On top of all that, Amanda Payne appears to be a different character in this book than she was in “Oryx.”  Or at least there’s no credible reason why a woman as “strong” as her would have (sort of) fallen in love with a fuck-up like Jimmy.  You could chalk it up to just seeing the same character through two different lenses, I suppose.  But there’s still something about Jimmy’s mockery of Amanda and her art that doesn’t jibe with Ren’s adulation.

But although it is still cartoonish, as is “Oryx,” you also get the same level of psychological insight and observational acuity as in the first installment.  The parallel story brings to mind the only other such case I’ve read, in Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow.  It seems like Card’s attempt worked better however, maybe because the protagonist in “Shadow” was a major character in “Game,” or maybe because Card had less balls in the air to juggle, or maybe just because I was younger and less critical.

Either way, despite the colorful characters and the vivid world she describes, and Atwood’s refreshing prose, the novel feels bloated and somewhat unnecessary, much like the sermons from Adam One that opened each section.  I fully intend to read the third in the trilogy, MaddAddam, but I hope more happens in it than in this one.

Update:  So, after reading other GR reviews, I notice that apparently it’s a thing to question the order in which you should read these books.  Seems obvious to me that reading “Oryx” first would be more rewarding.  If you don’t, then Glenn’s appearance about halfway through “Year” has none of the intended impact.

Original Review

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