“The Year of the Flood” isn’t really a sequel to “Oryx and Crake.” Instead, it tells the story of Toby and Ren, two members of the cult God’s Gardeners (GG), and how they have been able to survive in the post-apocalyptic world. It also, thankfully, fleshes out the two decades leading up to the cataclysmic plague from “Oryx and Crake” and manages to fill in the cracks from Snowman/Jimmy’s story. Toby came to the GG following the traumatic death of her parents, when she dropped out of college and was adrift in the pleeblands, stuck working for a questionable burger stand called SecretBurgers (as in, what’s in the meat? It’s a secret!). Ren, on the other hand, was brought to the GG by her mother, who chose to leave Ren’s father and their life in a Compound behind them because she had fallen in love with one of the leaders of the GG. (Those leaders call themselves Adams and Eves because, duh.) Like “Oryx and Crake,” the chapters alternate between glimpses of Toby and Ren’s lives before and after the plague, or, as the GG refers to it, the “Waterless Flood.” Eventually, their stories catch up to Jimmy’s in a thrilling confrontation, and the novel sets up an intriguing cliffhanger for the third novel.
As much as I enjoyed “Oryx and Crake,” I loved this book even more. The first novel had a very narrow focus on Jimmy and his interpretation of events. This book did a fantastic job of really opening up Atwood’s vision of this broken world. And I had quite a few, “Oh, I get it now!” moments where things were explained or connections were made clear. It helped that the main characters all knew each other in some way – Ren is Jimmy’s high school girlfriend, the one who in the first book yells at him for reading her diary; her best friend Amanda, who plays a big role, is the crazy artist Jimmy dates in college; and Glenn aka Crake also shows up as the GG’s main connection to the Compound world. Sure, sometimes it seemed like Ren’s inability to get over Jimmy was a little farfetched, that it was just an excuse for Atwood to be able to keep connecting his story to hers. On the other hand, who hasn’t wondered from time to time what an ex is up to, especially in today’s social media-obsessed world, where you can find anything with just a few simple Google searches? *cough* Not that I’ve done such a thing. Anyway.
Even though it’s not technically a sequel, I think it’s best to read “The Year of the Flood” second. It’s possible the ending would be confusing to someone who hadn’t read “Oryx and Crake.” In any case, the very end has me eager to crack open “MaddAddam” as soon as I can!
Sidenote: Apparently the GG Hymns that appear throughout the book have been turned into actual hymns by composer Orville Stoeber and can be purchased from Atwood’s website. How cool is that?