Wednesday, January 6, 2010


In her new novel The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood returns to the dystopian universe she first described in the romance Oryx and Crake, with her vision of ecological disaster and genetic engineering as it is experienced by members of a eco-friendly religious cult known as the Gardeners. In her first novel she concentrates on a love triangle amongst a group of corporate insiders (at HelthWyzer) who are trying to manufacture a new human species, but whose actions lead to the downfall of most of the human race as a body-melting plague savages the populace. In this story a group of societal castoffs, many of whom are ex-scientists and doctors morally opposed to genetic engineering and unethical profit-making schemes of the giant corporations, form a society that venerates "saints" (historical people who fought for the environment, such as Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, Euell Gibbons, etc.) and establishes a vegetarian (for the most part) commune that tries to avoid waste and warn of future disaster. The members, including children, are only one part of a larger society, and Atwood populates her story with a diverse and interesting group that one roots for. The story is primarily told through the eyes of two women. Toby, a middle-age woman with some holistic training who is saved by the group after she runs afoul of an evil, dangerous killer (who throughout the story hopes to run her down and kill her); she is adopted into the group and eventually earns a position of authority, but ends up stranded in an abandoned spa as the plague spreads. Ren, who was raised in the group, but is later taken back to the corporate compound, only to become an exotic dancer, survives the holocaust by fortuitously being trapped in an isolation ward of the club she works for. Despite depressing aspects of the story, it is remarkably uplifting, much less dour than McCarthy’s The Road, and there are rays of hope throughout. One finds themselves rooting for Zeb (who wants to more aggressively fight against the corporation); Amanda, a streetwise kid adopted into the group, who befriends Ren and later becomes an artists; Mordis, the club manager with a heart; and a small host of other sympathetic characters. I will confess that after a while I just skimmed over the prayers of Adam One (leader of the cult) and the corresponding hymns to get back to the main story, and there are times when events seem too coincidental, but overall, I think this is an even more enjoyable book than Oryx. There are elements that anyone who has been reading postapocalyptic fiction will be familiar. . such as gladiatorial contests for public consumption (such as in the Catching Fire series).

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