Audiobook Review: The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Attwood

The best part about alternate reality or alternate future type books is the realness of them; a successful author will lure readers into a world that feels very much like an extension of our own, and then drop bricks on them. Having read only two of her works, The Handmaid's Tale and The Year of the Flood, I am prepared to declare Margaret Atwood a master of this world-creation, and highly recommend her any works.

That's the short of it. The long of it follows after the break.


With Year of the Flood, Atwood has imagined a post-plague world in which only a few humans survive, and must learn to fend for themselves in a land devoid of resources and overrun by mutant animals. But really, it's completely believable. Though the novel begins with the years after the flood, readers are quickly filled in on the events preceding it: the consolidation of corporations across the globe into a conglomeration known as the CorpSeCorps; the rise of "compounds," run by said CorpSeCorps, in which people lived with all resources provided to them; the privatization of the nation's armed forces, and then, the government; and the growth of pocket cells of street gangs, terrorists, pacifists, and religious cults.

Year of the Flood switches back and forth between two perspectives: Toby, a veteran Gardener, former victim of one of the most vicious gang leaders in town, and inveterate tough-gal, who finds herself quarantined in a ladies' spa after the plague; and Ren, a naive child of a Gardener convert whose lift is uprooted when she and her mother are returned to their compound, who is locked away in a high-end sex club with excellent benefits and plenty of prepackaged food to tide her over. Both find themselves survivors of the plague through luck and miracle, and are left in a friendless, lonely world of death and destruction.

Atwood has imagined a careful, calculating world that is a clear extension of our own; much like The Handmaid's Tale, which is also excellent, Year of the Flood suggests our destination, should we continue on the path we are on at the moment. In that, Atwood has succeeded in laying the groundwork for a captivating, engaging storyline.

And the storyline does not disappoint. As we come to know both Toby and Ren, both in their present state and in their individual histories, we learn of their differences, their strengths, their weaknesses. Though the Gardeners at first come off as cult-ish and didactic and slightly absurd -- and they are all of those things -- it is not difficult to understand how they came to be, or why people are continually drawn to them. As more and more characters crawl out of the woodwork - sometimes literally - readers are treated to the joy of experiencing human bonds, a kind of love and reliance that is most often depicted in literature only in immediate families.

In this land without families, then, Atwood suggests that there is an alternative. In a land without government, public programs, or really any social structure, there is an alternative. In a land without resources, there is an alternative. These alternatives lie in banding together, and in redefining our sense of community, family and independence, but they do exist.

A note on the audio: The audio version of Year of the Flood is narrated by two women, Bernadette Dunn and Katie MacNichol, capturing the alternating voices of Ren and Toby, who each narrate their own tale. Interspersed between the narrative are sermons from the Gardeners, read by Adam One (Mark Bramhall) and accompanied by a musical score written to represent the hymns of the Gardeners. The sermons and music are slightly long-winded at times, but then, most of us have sat through a religious ceremony of some sort in our lives, and I'll be the first to raise my hand and admit that my mind has wandered. Ultimately, then, the musical score adds little to the story, but the careful variety of voices - all of whom recreate their characters perfectly - only add to Atwood's already captivating and engrossing story.

A note on the prequel: Like Ben at Learning to Read (link below), I did not realize before embarking on Year of the Flood that it was in fact a sequel to Atwood's earlier novel, Oryx and Crake. The Gardeners, mentioned in passing in Oryx and Crake, take on the central role of the sequel; Oryx and Crake are both characters mentioned in passing in Year of the Flood who apparently form the central storyline of Oryx and Crake. Although I've read them out of order, I am intrigued enough by both the concept and the set-up of the pair and by Atwood's imagination to go back and visit Oryx and Crake.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

Learning to Read
Page Turners
Literary Musings


You might also like:

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood


Note: Thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library for a copy of this audiobook, and for continually stocking such an excellent selection of audiobooks.

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