The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (audio)

Margaret Atwood is a master of world-building. This was a great experience: disturbing, thought-provoking, funny, frightening, and completely real.

In The Year of the Flood, we check in with Toby and with Ren, both weathering out the aftermath of the “waterless flood” that seems to have almost entirely wiped out humankind. We’re also treated to a series of flashbacks to their lives before the flood. In that dystopic world, the CorpSeCorps rule a sinister corporate/business/police state, and the Gardeners preach the gospel of the flood to come and their own brand of “green,” vegetarian, wacky Christianity. Toby was an Eve in the Gardeners, and Ren, a former Gardener, was a sex worker in a high-end club. I don’t want to say much more about plot; the constant discovering of new surprises was very special and I want to preserve that for you.

One of the unique aspects of this audiobook was the songs that accompanied the sermons preached by Adam One, the Gardeners’ leader. For one thing, various narrators are employed, which is always interesting; Adam One has his own narrator, so we hear his sermons in his own voice. I found them creepy, but the hymns were creepier still. Music on an audiobook is a great use of the format, and one I’m mostly unfamiliar with. In this case, they helped set a tone that I found overwhelmingly… disturbing. I’m a little alarmed by organized religion to begin with, and pretty sympathetic to vegetarian-hippie-feel-good systems of thought; but this combination of the two was definitely a little bit cultish and perverse. There is an eerie other-worldly feeling to the pre-flood dystopia. And then of course, our flashbacks to that world are interspliced with tidbits of the lonely experiences of Toby and Ren in the frightening new world, where liobams (lion-lambs) and rackunks (raccoon-skunks) run wild.

And speaking of creepiness, can I mention this? One character is a refugee from Texas, which was made unliveable by a hurricane, which of course wins prizes for believability but the flip side of that coin is it’s a little close to home, Ms. Atwood! She does paint an alarming picture of the-world-as-we-know-it, but different.

There are several qualities that make this book special and remarkable. Toby, Ren, Zeb, and Amanda are all such real and fully-developed characters; they live and breathe. The pre-flood world of the CorpSeCorps and the Gardeners is both fantastic and wild and foreign and also startlingly close to home; this may very well be what we’re headed towards, you’ll think as you read/listen. It, too, is well-developed, fully-realized, frighteningly realistic and possible. The pacing of the story builds the tension perfectly; new tidbits are discovered at just the right moments; the tension grows. At the start of the story, we meet both Toby and Ren, each in her respective hiding place and suspecting she’s the last living human on earth; as the flashbacks unfurl, we learn how each ended up where she is. The jumpy chronology adds to the disjointed feeling the book inspires. It’s really just masterfully done. And the audio was extremely well done, too.

I don’t feel I’ve done this book justice. I don’t want to say too much; but maybe too I’m just not up to the task. I recommend Atwood and, as Valerie pointed out, you should read Oryx and Crake before this one as it is a sequel of sorts; although I think it is very satisfying on its own, too. (I did read the former but have mostly forgotten it…) I also want to direct you to Kerry’s review, also of the audiobook, as she did a great job. (Maybe I’m just having trouble following her!)

This is a creepy-crawly, perfectly executed story about the dystopian future we might be headed towards, and the audio is A+.

One Response

  1. […] Maybe it’s that I’ve found them both a little hit-or-miss; I was less impressed with The Year of the Flood and ambivalent about Oryx and Crake and The Blind Assassin; have no impression from Surfacing; but […]

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