The Year of the Flood takes place some time in the future, some would argue not very long into the future, and humans are in deep trouble. Sea levels have risen, humans are just holding on and genetically spliced Frankenstein species roam the earth. The story is connected to Atwood’s 1993 book Oryx and Crake, coming to the same place in time, through different characters.
The books’ primary character group are the Gardeners, a vegetarian green cult of sorts. Parts of the book begin with a reference to the year and the Saint day, an explanation of what is being celebrated, followed by a hymn. The Gardeners seek to preserve animal and plant life, even though extinctions have left the world decimated of much of both.
The authorities, controlled by corporations, tolerate the Gardeners, as long as they don’t interfere with corporate objectives. Corporations at this time seem to be primarily engaged in genetic engineering and pharmaceuticals. For those not in corporate compounds, the streets are full of squatters and gangs of violent men or children.
Two women narrate most of the story. Ren joined the gardeners as a child when her mother ran off with Zeb, an Adam of the Gardeners. Toby, comes to the group as an adult, fleeing a murderous rapist. Toby is tough. She resists the Gardeners initially, but eventually becomes an Eve, a female leader of the gardeners. Both women tell their stories during the Year of the Flood and what preceded it, how they became part of the Gardener community, and how they left.
Atwood’s speculative fiction, as she calls it, is bleak, and weird, and everything has a kernel of possibility to it. As usual she infuses her dark humor into the future as well: liobams (an unsuccessful crossing of lion and lamb),rakunks and bobkittens. Businesses have names such as Anooyoo Spa, Scales and Tails sex club and Happicuppa coffee.
Atwood expresses what I think many people feel any more about the environmental dilemmas that face our species:
“Everybody knew. Nobody admitted to knowing. If other people began to discuss it, you tuned them out, because what they were saying was both so obvious and so unthinkable. “
“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 it to be done with. You find yourself saying to the sky, Just do it. Do your worst. Get it over with.”
Some parts of the book work better than others. I struggled a bit with the recurrent sermons and hymns, some made me laugh out loud. Others fell a bit flat. That said, Atwood is one of my favorite writers, and this book didn’t disappoint.