The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. Published 2009 by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.
The Year of the Flood, the latest literary dystopia from Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is not so much a sequel to her last book, Oryx and Crake, as it is a companion novel. I am a huge fan of Atwood's novels, and not having read an Atwood book in a couple of years, I was so excited to get my hands on this one.
TYoTF unrolls efficiently, on a typically Atwoodian double time line, following two women, Ren and Toby. Toby is older, a middle aged woman who's gone from a lost adolescent to convert to a quasi-religious, vegan-survivalist cult called God's Gardeners, and now one of a handful of survivors of a deadly, virulent plague. Ren grows up with the Gardeners and knows Toby tangentially but not well; she, too, has survived and thinks she's alone. The double time line shows us the past and present of each woman as she negotiates this violent, broken-down world.
I really enjoyed The Year of the Flood- like, really enjoyed it. Atwood's science fiction/dystopian novels aren't as compelling to me as her other, more strictly literary, writing, but she is a masterful writer and Flood finds her doing what I think she does better than anyone- writing about women's lives. In between all the scifi pyrotechnics and page-turning action, that's what it's about and that's what I loved best about it. Having said that, it is also a great page-turner and a dizzying, dazzling and disturbing vision of the future.
Now, the big question about Flood is- do you have to have read Oryx and Crake to get it? No. Absolutely no. When I read Flood I had not read Oryx and Crake and had no trouble following it at all. In fact, I have since read Oryx and Crake and found it a good deal less easy to follow in general than Flood. The books operate as two countries in the same world. Major characters from one are minor characters in another; questions asked in one get answered in the other but they work together, not as first-book and sequel. I'm hoping there's more to come. As it stands, Flood is a terrific read that I think will appeal to science fiction and literary fiction readers.
So? Go get both.
UPDATE: I just found out, The Year of the Flood has been longlisted for Canada's prestigious Giller Prize. So, not all science fiction is neglected by major literary awards!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.