13 September 2010

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Brief Synopsis: 

his story follows two characters, Ren and Toby. They both fall into life the The Gardeners through respective unfortunate events. Through their experiences, the reader is able to understand the world and society of the time. Similarly, after being with the Gardeners for many years, they are each ripped from that home under unfortunate circumstances. The Gardeners themselves are a religious group, highly valuing nature and environmentalism. They live in a cult-like fashion, removed from society and working hard to prevent adopting the evils, such as GMOs, of the society around them. A fear of a future apocalyptic event is also of great concern to this particular group. Eventually, the predicted event occurs, which many of the Gardeners manage to survive, likely due to the preparations their religious fear encouraged. They then, somehow, manage to regroup.

The Author:
I have included a biography on Margaret Atwood on a previous post. Please click here for that entry. I am not certain of Margaret Atwood's religious leanings, but I do know that she is very active in a number of environmental movements here in Canada and internationally.

Thoughts and Reflections:
Now, Margaret Atwood is by far my favourite author. I have not read all of her works, but am slowly making my way through! :) I have been extremely excited about The Year of the Flood and have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of it since before January of this year! At long last it is here! My first impressions of the novel were that is was a continuation of Oryx and Crake. In fact, the first chapters reference the Oryx, refer to the plethora of genetically modified plants and animals, even by the same name, and takes place post some apocalyptic event, which very few humans survived. I loved Oryx and Crake, but was a bit surprised at how similar The Year of the Flood seemed to be. And indeed, the book tied in with Oryx and Crake, however, in no way is this novel redundant. Oryx and Crake focused on the post-apocalyptic event, only offering glimpses at the time prior, whereas The Year of the Flood focuses on the time and society prior to the event. They both shed light on a very interesting event and thus nicely compliment each other without being repetitive. I found the ending of this novel both moderately sappy, but also quite hopeful for humanity.

Fanaticism of all kinds and religion were key elements in this novel. This society seemed one of extremes: sex, religion, politics, and consumerism. Religions placed no value in theology, but rather became a means of coping with the present. Religious groups were cultish and held strong political values. The Gardeners, for instance, adopted the politics of environmentalism into their idea of God. This discussion of the popularity of religions in tough times I found interesting. I would also add, that the author does not preach at the reader or endorse religions in this novel. The Gardeners, the main religious group, simply stands in contrast to a corrupt and unethical society. Their environmentalism is what makes them important players in this novel, rather than their belief in a God.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were a hot topic in this novel. The Gardeners, the central religious group in the novel, fought against the manufacturing of GMOs. What I found most interesting about this discussion was how far humanity took genetically modified organism. In this novel, the natural species was deliberately made extinct in order to clear a market for the new modified organism. Such was the case with Bees in the story. The GMOs fed an exploding luxury/vanity consumer market, leaving only a raped and broken earth. I believe the concern is not scientific advancements, but how outrageous these advancements can be and what they can be used for. The problem was the consumer market and unethical governance. Science, however, is valued. Eventually, the human race is nearly wiped out to make way for a more advanced species.
A budding theme of late seems to be the few human survivors after some global apocalyptic event. I find this quite an interesting theme. This ability for humanity to survive trauma is incredible, yet still humanity is fragile. The characters in this novel survive a pandemic than nearly erases humanity, but also rape, beatings, personal loss, food scarcity, etc. Perhaps the theme appeals to the survivability of humanity, or perhaps it appeals to the very human fear of being totally wiped out. Both are interesting, to be sure. This is certainly an interesting theme in this book, but also a theme to keep tabs on in the broader world of contemporary literature.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. On the one hand the novel is disturbing with how exploitive humans can be, but the novel also carries a message that renewal is possible, that humanity will survive (providing that's a hopeful concept for you!)  I would most certainly recommend it, though beware, though the book can stand on its own, reading Oryx and Crake with surely follow of precede!

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