Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood (2009), does not have the suspense of the first, just because the initial drama that helped build the world is now very much in the background, but the second book builds on the first in illuminating ways. The book follows Toby and Ren, two members of a religious eco-group called God’s Gardeners, during that group’s rise and fall in the years leading up to the plague that wipes out humanity. Toby and Ren are the flip-side of Jimmy the Snowman from the first novel: whereas he (barely) stayed within the protective (in some ways) enclosures of the CorpSeCorps world, they have fallen out of that world into the more abandoned one beyond. The novel gives us two key things, then: a picture of a different part of the world Atwood has built, and also a different perspective on the events leading to the plague. Crake’s roll in engineering a post-apocalyptic world isn’t ignored, here, but the Gardeners reveal a certain amount of influence on him—and some of the more radical Gardener scientists whom Crake uses seem a little more aware of the way they have been used than he thought they were (at least as I remember the previous novel from last year’s reading, but maybe I’m forgetting something).

At some points early in the novel I worried that old characters might surface a little too much and make the novel seem a little too pandering to those following the trilogy, but that faded away quickly as I read on, and Jimmy’s appearance later in the novel is an obvious consequence of what we knew from O&C. The most confusing thing about the novel, at first, is the numbering of the years: because it is an apocalyptic event, you would think the flood would be year 1 (or year 0) in the Gardeners’ schema rather than basing their entire numbering system on the year they began as a group. However, it is easy to see how that would then require an awkward narrative labeling of scenes showing the past as “Before Flood (B.F.),” so it makes sense Atwood would design things the way she did. In all, this was a nice expansion that shares the strengths and weaknesses of the first book.

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