The Year of the Flood
A haunting companion to the dystopian masterpiece Oryx and Crake, from the reigning queen of speculative fiction.
Four years ago, my girlfriend lent me Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake on our very first date. I was hesitant to accept, not only because that locked me into seeing her again, but because other than Geek Love, I had never read anything by a female author that I had actually liked. (Imminent backlash in 3... 2... 1...) Flash forward to the present and we are still together and I am anxiously awaiting the release of The Year of the Flood. Looks like I have fallen prey to not one, but two crafty she-devils.
Margaret Atwood, on why she wrote The Year of the Flood:
I’ve never before gone back to a novel and written another novel related to it. Why this time? Partly because so many people asked me what happened right after the end of the 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake. I didn’t actually know, but the questions made me think about it.
She may have thought about it, but she doesn't really give us an answer. The bulk of The Year of the Flood takes place concurrent with Oryx and Crake, not after. It is less a sequel and more of a companion piece, filling in the gaps of its predecessor. The two books could almost be combined and read as one epic dystopian tome, but that would deprive the reader of the enjoyment of Flood's unraveling mysteries.
Flood employs a structure similar to Oryx and Crake, but this time utilizes more than one main character. The narrative is split between two women, who somehow manage to survive the devastating effects of the waterless flood. There's Ren, an exotic dancer quarantined while awaiting the results of some blood work, and Toby, a member of the religious group God's Gardeners, who is barricaded inside a health spa. As they struggle to stay alive, we jump back and forth between the past and the present, until one catches up with the other and the two character's paths converge.
Those who have read Oryx and Crake (which if you haven't, I highly recommend you do) will already be familiar with Flood's barren landscape and the genetically modified creatures that populate it. They should also be familiar with the characters of Jimmy and Crake. Though they are not the main focus of the story, we are given new insight into their actions, and everything that happens is in some way related to them. At times the character's lives seem almost too intertwined, with coincidences that rival Paul Haggis' Crash, but this is a testament to Atwood's tight plotting as opposed to a detriment.
Year of the Flood is a stern warning, but it is a warning we have heard before, and will probably go unheeded. It is a comment on the dangers of big government, science as god, religious zealotry, the destruction of the environment and our own human nature. Atwood has an uncanny ability to craft lived in characters and place them in a completely unique world that somehow mirrors our own. This being our second visit to that world only serves to make it that much more powerful.
If Oryx and Crake was the heir apparent to the speculative throne, The Year of the Flood ensures the continuation of the blood line. Though the novels of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are still thematically relevant, Atwood one-ups them with a story so plausible it could already be happening. In revisiting the world of Oryx and Crake, she successfully expands upon that novel's themes while simultaneously giving us a fresh perspective on its events. Whereas the climax of Oryx and Crake occurs in the past, Flood's story line builds towards the future, giving us a feeling of closure, despite the open-endedness of the novel's finale. Atwood still hasn't answered our questions about what happens next, but she's left plenty of room for a true sequel. Here's hoping she writes one.