Book review: Year of the Flood

My friends and I have lately started a book club (although I am trying to call it a “literary collective”). Three of the four of us are former English majors, and although we are only on our third meeting, it’s really gratifying to pore over a piece of literature and dissect it. (Sometimes it’s easy to forget that talking about books can be just as fulfilling as devouring them.)

Our first book – my pick – was The Remains of the Day, which broke my heart into a thousand proper British pieces. The second book, Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Top of the Stairs, only one of the collective finished, but we managed to wrangle a discussion about it anyways.

This month is Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Year of the Flood. A little personal touch on Atwood: my mother is Canadian, and used to work for the CBC (Canada’s equivalent of the BBC). She recalls how reporters interviewing Atwood would be practically eviscerated if they did not show enough knowledge about her latest book. She does seem like an intense lady, from her bookjacket pictures.

But what about The Year of the Flood? The story is not quite a sequel, but runs parallel to her previous novel Oryx and Crake (which I read when it came out but had to use the great Wikipedia entry to catch up). I think the best trick about the book would be to re-read Oryx and Crake again and see how the stories line up.

Both books take place in a dystopian future, where a giant corporation runs everything and sex is completely commoditized and food comes from mass market sheets of flesh (if you’re lucky).

Flood focuses on the cult-like Gardener group, vegetarians who eke out a pastoral existence in the urban jungle. In the midst of our post-Pollan food justice culture, the Gardeners seem ripped from the pages of the New York Times Style section, and frankly less scary than some vegans I have known. But it was difficult to pin down a point to their idealism—misguided? A blueprint? ??

The story also focused on some of the sex trade, now legalized. Atwood has written about power relations between men and women before, most masterfully, in The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t really glean any new themes from Year of the Flood, except that women always seem to get the short end of the stick in her books.

I found it an enjoyable read, but far less resonant than the Handmaid’s Tale, and less personally enjoying than the Blind Assassin.