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The Year of the Flood    by Margaret Atwood order for
Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood
Order:  USA  Can
McClelland & Stewart, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood takes readers back to the dystopian near future portrayed in Oryx and Crake. Though I haven't read the latter, that by no means diminished my appreciation of the new novel. This is a sad future in which people's places in society are precarious and those at the top are often quickly dislodged to live amongst their perceived inferiors as inner city pleebs. Species extinctions have escalated and genetic experimentation has created odd new combinations like rakunks and liobams. This is a world ruled by Corps, whose methods are ruthlessly self-serving.

The story flows through the memories of two women, older Toby and younger Ren, whose lives intersected for a number of years when they were (both almost accidentally) members of the cult-like Gardeners, led by Adam One. The author makes gentle fun of the Gardeners via their childlike rituals and oral hymns. Hymn verses like 'How shrunk, how dwindled in our times / Creation's mighty seed - / For Man has broke the Fellowship / With murder, lust, and greed', will nevertheless please environmentalists.

While Adam One's sermons are simple on the surface, they offer food for thought. He tells us that 'the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees; then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology; from simple signals into complex grammar, and thus into humanity; from firelessness into fire, and thence into weaponry; and from seasonal mating into an incessant sexual twitching. Then they fell from a joyous life in the moment into the anxious contemplation of the vanished past and the distant future.'

Earth's Gardeners have long awaited the Waterless Flood, which has arrived as the novel opens - 'it travelled through the air as if on wings, it burned through cities like fire, spreading germ-ridden mobs, terror, and butchery. The lights were going out everywhere, the news was sporadic: systems were failing as their keepers died.' We watch Toby and Ren cope (or not) with the new reality as they reflect on what has led up to this point in their lives.

At the time of the global pandemic, Toby was in hiding (arranged by the Gardeners) from a terrible abuser (evil Painballer Blanco) who had long sought her - she had been working at the pervasively pink AnooYoo Spa. Now she's alone there, going through the supplies she had hoarded. She wonders what she will do once they're gone and whether or not anyone else is alive. Fortunately she has been able to retrieve the rifle that her father hid long ago (before her family was destroyed by CorpSeCorps when a developer coveted his land). That gives her some security.

Ren, on the other hand, ended up working - as a trapeze dancer - at the sex club Scales and Tails. While the world was dying, Ren was locked in isolation in the Sticky Zone (ironically, in case she had something contagious). She's well supplied for now, but unable to get out. She wonders if her pleebrat friend Amanda is still alive - if so, Ren knows Amanda will come for her. Ren's life has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster, but Amanda (and Toby) have been constant.

What happens to Toby and Ren? You will have to read yourself to find out, but the suspense pulls reader interest through the story, which is brilliant and told with a light irony throughout. The Year of the Flood is a gripping read - especially as we can unfortunately see the way the world might get from here to there - and it has an ambiguous ending that leaves readers to form their own conclusions. Highly recommended.

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