The Year of the Flood
McClelland & Stewart
Ten years on, millennial fever has not abated. Film, video games, books, comics – we’re fascinated with End of Things. I’ve written before about our reverence and revulsion for apocalypse, but many of these stories deal with fallen worlds.
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, is a 400-plus vision of an all-too familiar world on the brink. Disaster does hit, but it’s not until close to the end of the novel. This novel is almost a warning, of sorts – if we stay on our current trajectory, are we bound to face this? The maelstrom comes in the form of a disease,, which makes it even more terrifying, as there’s really nothing that we can do to stop it. The Flood is a metaphor coined by a religious cult; there’s even a chapter called The Waterless Flood, which defines it rather well. It purges not with water, but with a virus. Stephen King dealt with similar themes in The Stand, of course, but at least Atwood’s novel doesn’t write itself into a corner where all you can do is stick in an atomic bomb.
The novel is a prequel of sorts to Atwood’s last novel, Oryx and Crake, which dealt with the world after it’s fallen to pieces. The characters are familiar: both Crake and Snowman appear in their pre-Flood guises of Glenn and Jimmy, respectively; Amanda is a major character; we learn much more about God’s Gardeners. It is a standalone book, though – previous knowledge of Atwood’s world is not a prerequisite.
In fact, I recommend not reading Oryx and Crake beforehand. It might turn you off. While the earlier novel is interesting, and scary in places, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Year of the Flood. Perhaps it’s because Atwood was getting her feet wet, or perhaps it’s because a world on the brink is simply scarier because it’s so familiar. I also feel she was trying to channel Aldous Huxley in the earlier novel, and in this new one, she’s put the focus on people within the world rather than world-building.
The Year of the Flood is an excellent novel that, to be perfectly honest, renewed my faith in Margaret Atwood. Canadians often balk at our own celebrities, and while I wasn’t guilty of this when it came to Atwood, her novels really never held my interest, with the notable exception of Oryx and Crake and now The Year of the Flood. My only criticism was that I considered the pacing at one point. Something needed to happen, and then it did. The pacing is pretty good, but flawed. Readers shouldn’t consider the pacing, even if it works. It should be invisible.
The Year of the Flood grabs and doesn’t let go until its vicious and brutal conclusion. Not what I would expect from the author of Cat’s Eye or Alias Grace.