Oryx & Crake fans rejoice! Margaret Atwood triumphantly returns with The Year of the Flood, in which readers are once more catapulted into the smoking embers of a world that faintly echoes our own. After centuries of rampant moral and environmental exploitation, the Earth has been decimated—perhaps beyond repair—by a “waterless flood,” one that comes in the form of a plague and leaves few survivors standing.
The Year of the Flood occurs in parallel with Oryx & Crake, meaning the two books can be read in any order. This time, we trace the fall of the human race through the eyes of two female narrators, Toby and Ren. When the flood hit, these two women were members of God’s Gardeners, an organization focused on sustainability, its principles founded in early Christian scripture updated with a modern-day vegan twist. Through interwoven, retrospective narratives, Toby and Ren share how they each came to join the Gardeners, and how they witnessed the eventual crumble and collapse of civilization. Living as they do in a world where healthcare corporations are actively spreading disease so they can profit from providing the cures, prisoners are sentenced to Battle Royale-style death matches in which winners get their freedom, and losers are brutally slaughtered, and the only animals to walk the Earth are genetically engineered splices, it is only too easy to appreciate Atwood’s indictment of our own 21st-century world.
At times this skewering can feel heavy-handed, as if the storytelling has taken a backseat to environmental and corporate whistle-blowing, but even so, no one can deny that Atwood’s message remains chilling, timely and necessary. For all the portents of doom and destruction caused by our own hands, Atwood is at her very best when she is focusing on the human struggle to survive, despite the odds. Above all else, readers will be moved by Toby and Ren’s story; in a strange land, these women feel like family. The Year of the Flood is sure to thrill fans of speculative fiction, while also converting an entirely new wave of Atwood devotees.
Stephenie Harrison writes from Nashville.