Review: The Year of the Flood

The Year of the FloodThe Year of the Flood 
by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Year of the Flood / 978-0-385-53208-2

When I suggested "Year of the Flood" for a book club reading, I knew that it was a sequel to Atwood's apocalyptic "Oryx and Crake", but I had read that the two were so loosely connected that new readers could easily sink into "Year of the Flood" with a minimum of backstory. This turned out to be half-true, half-false.

Almost every character in "The Year of the Flood" either served as a minor character in "Oryx and Crake" or - at the very least - knew Jimmy or Glenn/Crake or Oryx. All the little "throw-away" characters from the previous novel are fleshed out in great detail - Jimmy's mother, his childhood girlfriend, his college roommate - for better or for worse. In some ways, this is great because there was just so much that had to be left unsaid in O&C - for instance, a lot of the world-building was limited by the fact that the narrator was a teenage boy who'd never really lived outside the safeties and securities of the upper-middle class compounds. With YotF, we get to see the same world, pre-apocalypse, from the point of view of the slums and the impoverished that inhabit them.

Sometimes, though, this "6 degrees of connection" between all the characters in the two novels can feel a little gimmicky. Some of this is justified in that many of the novel's characters are members of the same survivalist cult that was, not surprisingly, best prepared to survive the freak and unexpected apocalypse that wiped the earth in O&C. And even the Glenn/Crake connection can seem less of an authorial contrivance and more of a foreboding plot twist - is it just a coincidence that Glenn/Crake became obsessed with wiping out humanity after becoming peripherally involved with a cult that obsessively believed humanity was about to be wiped out?

Despite all this, YotF is very enjoyable and while a lot of the nuance (as in, "oh, that's Jimmy's ex-girlfriend!") will be lost on new readers, it is fairly easy to sink in and get your bearings... until about 2/3 of the way in when the otherworldly "Crakers" show up with their purring and blue skin and suddenly things could get very weird. One of the characters gives a quick explanation, but there's obviously a lot of backstory there that is being skipped.

In the end, as a fan of the first novel, I truly loved "The Year of the Flood" and thought it was a truly wonderful sequel, despite some of the convenient coincidences that abound. The members of my book club that were coming to this novel fresh all really liked the novel as well, even when it didn't make perfect sense, and we're all anxiously waiting for the third novel to come out.

A note about the audio book for this novel: it's quite exquisite. Since the narrative alternates between two female characters, the audio book has two wonderful voice actresses, and they really nail the parts and sound exactly as I would have imagined. The interludes with Adam One's preaching and singing are handled by a third narrator, and the songs are actually fully sung to really lovely music. I'm not usually a fan of "sung" audio books, but this one is performed so naturally and flawlessly that it's a delight.

~ Ana Mardoll

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