Book Review: The Year of the Flood

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Sucked into the well of knowledge, you could only plummet, learning more and more, but not getting any happier.

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

When I was in my senior year of high school, I was assigned to read Oryx and Crake. It was my first time reading something by Margaret Atwood. In fact, I’m fairly certain it was the first time I’d heard of her, even though she is a giant of Canadian literature and I attended a Canadian high school.

I loved Oryx and Crake, and being a bit naive (although that naivete was soon to dissipate as I transformed into a jaded lit major), I was disturbed by the world it portrayed, filled with giant, omnipotent corporations and genetically engineered creatures. Although, you’d think that being Korean, I’d be used to the idea of a country run by corporations and overrun by engineered people…

For some reason, it took me five years to pick up The Year of the Flood after finishing Oryx and Crake. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I didn’t have the time, the means, or the opportunity. I wanted to continue the series, but the more I put it off, the more difficult I thought it would be to reacquaint myself with the series’s world.

Thankfully, it was relatively easy for me to submerge myself again into the world of pigoons and rakunks. The Year of the Flood takes place at the same time as Oryx and Crake, and instead of the central male characters of Jimmy/Snowman and Glenn/Crake, we have two female protagonists, Toby and Ren. Jimmy and Glenn play significant roles in this novel as well, but the story revolves around the God’s Gardeners, a religious cult whose members eschew writing, meat-eating, and technology.

When I first began reading, it was difficult for me to differentiate between Toby and Ren, since they share similar backgrounds and their stories overlap at various intervals. Still, once my brain worked out that Toby’s story is told in third person and Ren’s in first person, it became a lot easier.

Toby and Ren are both likeable characters. They’re both a little lost and trying to survive in a hostile world, unable to decide much for themselves. One aspect I found irritating, though, was the unrequited romances between several characters. I hope that some of it is resolved in the third book, because in this book, the romances detracted from characters I otherwise found to be pragmatic and intelligent. Especially Ren’s romance, illustrated superficially but continuously resurfacing at important plot points, annoyed me.

Other than that, the novel presents fascinating ideas, continued from Oryx and Crake, around gender roles, religion, and science. But what particularly interested me was its interest in language and the power of words. Ren’s main weapon against Jimmy is her diary, which she begins writing after her departure from the Gardeners, where she is discouraged from writing. From the occasional hymns led by Adam One to maddAddam’s use of extinct animal names as aliases, the power of language is made clear, which I found fascinating, as both an avid reader and an occasional blogger.

YES OR NO?: YES. Although it is not necessary to read Oryx and Crake to understand most of The Year of the Flood, I would recommend reading the series in order to experience the novel’s events at their full impact. The first time I recognized Jimmy and Crake in The Year of the Flood genuinely excited me, even though it’d been years since I encountered them. If you enjoy dystopian fiction, or, as Atwood labels her own books, “speculative fiction”, this series is definitely worth a read.

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