The Year of the Flood is the second installment of the amazing Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy, following Oryx and Crake. It moves outside of the luxurious compounds of the future world, into the, poverty-ridden, dangerous pleeblands, to depict the near-end of mankind through the eyes of the God’s Gardeners, a recently formed religious group that prophesied the waterless flood. They are a group that appeared in Oryx and Crake, though there they were depicted as little more than crazed vegans; in Year of the Flood, they are fleshed out, proving themselves to be merely people of a different (and stronger) belief system. They are a community of mostly like-minded people who sustain themselves with extensive roof-top gardens, mushrooms that flourish in dank basements, and honey they harvest from their own bees. They practice and teach their children sustainable living methods, natural healing (which includes honey, maggots, and poisonous mushrooms), and how to eat meat (acknowledging that it may someday be necessary for survival). The God’s Gardeners are an oasis of conservation in a world of waste, salvaging the remains of a society gone very, very wrong.
The novel switches between three characters: Toby, a former “typical” pleeblander, who is rescued from a physically and sexually abusive employer as an adult by the Gardeners, and whose story is told from the third person; Ren, who was brought to the Gardeners as a child by her mother, and narrates in the first person; and Adam One, who founded the Gardeners, and whose narration consists of a series of second person addresses to his followers. Adam gives interesting insight into his beliefs and ideology; his chapters are short and sweet and serve to mark time. Toby is a really enjoyable character – she’s complex, intelligent, and strong without being cold, and gives a skeptic’s view of the Gardeners. Ren though, who is to blame for the constant mentions of Jimmy (see next paragraph), is rather annoying. She is a follower, through and through. After her return to the compounds, she is exposed to Happicuppa, which was revealed to be a corrupt new brand of coffee in Oryx and Crake and which the Gardeners staunchly oppose:
The first time, I told him Happicuppa was the brew of evil so I couldn’t drink it and he laughed at me. The second time I made an effort, and it tasted delicious, and soon I wasn’t thinking too much about the evilness of it. (121)
This passage was quite powerful to me as it sums up the mentality of most people – they prefer pleasure to any guiding ethics or morality. It’s like the compostable SunChips bags: they are currently discontinued because while people liked that they were compostable, they preferred a bag that didn’t make so much noise. We’re a lazy and selfish species; it kind of makes you identify with Crake, doesn’t it?
To be honest, I didn’t love this book. I love most of what Margaret Atwood writes and while I enjoyed her style and originality in Year of the Flood, I was also a little disappointed in it. A lot of it felt like an elaborate stage meant to expand upon Snowman’s story, which was already told in Oryx and Crake. And while it was fun to have cameos by familiar characters, the cameos became a little too common, feeling a little contrived. After a while, Jimmy seems to show up on every other page due to hard-to-credit coincidences, yet doesn’t really contribute anything new to the story. I found the story of the God’s Gardeners incredibly interesting and their lifestyle admirable. I also found myself wondering if I could somehow get onto the roof of my apartment building to begin my own garden (I can’t). However, I wish that the story could have just stuck with them. The one exception to this would be the brief cameos by Glenn (which are easy to miss, as he was generally referred to as Crake in the previous novel). Nobody seems to know much about him, including Jimmy who was friends with him for years, so the additional information given about him here serves to broaden the scope of our knowledge of him and what he eventually does. However, his appearances were overwhelmed by those of Jimmy, who is no more interesting than the latest woman he is boffing.
For anybody who loves Oryx and Crake, I definitely recommend that you read Year of the Flood, just don’t be disappointed if it’s not quite as excellent. It is s a good novel and worth the time – just not as amazing as its predecessor. It certainly won’t stop me from finishing the series, whenever that may be.