The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood
"But she went to tell the bees. She felt like an idiot doing it, but she'd promised. She remembered that it wasn't enough just to think at them: you had to say the words out loud. Bees were the messengers between this world and the other worlds, Pilar had said. Between the living and the dead. They carried the Word made air. (p 180)
What responsibilities do humans have to nature? To themselves? How do these interact with and effect their lives? The consequences, whether intended or not, of unbridled genetic manipulation of flora and fauna may lead to the ultimate destruction of all human life. It is the possibilities of these consequences that are explored by Margaret Atwood in The Year of the Flood, a novel in which she has imagined a companion piece for her earlier novel, Oryx and Crake. It is impressive in the way that the stories of the the characters in the novels blend with each other both through tangential personal connections between characters like Ren, Jimmy, and Glenn and through the experiences of Ren, Amanda, Toby and others with the "Gardeners" as the years progress and the inevitable disaster, "The Year of the Flood" occurs.
The friendship between Amanda and Ren stands out and as it grows, despite their differences it and the social cohesion of the Gardener breathe life and richness into the novel. The friendship of Pilar helps Toby go on after she succumbed to cancer.
"Toby knew the theory: Pilar believed that she was donating herself to the matrix of Life through her own volition, and she also believed that this should be a matter for celebration."(p 119)
The future in which they struggle to survive has many dangers whether from political controls executed by the security force known as CorpSeCorps or from random groups like refugees from the penal system know as Painballers or from the mutated and mutilated flora and fauna that have overtaken nature.
They are forced to improvise and develop survival skills in order to survive. They find some security at Scales and Tales, the AnooYoo Spa, and within the community of Gardeners even as their vulnerabilities continue.
The world of the Gardeners is a spiritual realm led by Adam One whose explanations of creation and the fall of humanity provide his followers with a belief system that helps them overcome the chaos that is engulfing them.
“I could see how you could do extreme things for the person you loved. Adam One said that when you loved a person, that love might not always get returned the way you wanted, but it was a good thing anyway because love went out all around you like an energy wave, and a creature you didn't know would be helped by it.”
One of the most beautiful aspects of the story are the poetic lyrics from The God's Gardeners Oral Hymnbook.
The novel's three voices, Toby's, Ren's, and Adam One's, complement each other even as their differing perspectives sometimes clash. Ren survives in part from the support of father figures that enter her life; from the support of sayings like, “It's better to hope than mope!” But ultimately she and the others must face a dark dystopian landscape with limited resources. It is a world that smells of death: "she sniffs the air. Mildew, of course. What else? Excrement. Decaying meat. Other noxious undertones. She wishes she had the nose of a dog, to sort one smell from another."(p 378)
It is an unpleasant and dangerous environment in which they face a future with hope and imagination, knowing that future may not have a place for any humans. This puts them in the same ultimate position as Jimmy, the "Snowman", the protagonist of Oryx and Crake. I look forward to the final volume in the trilogy with interest and hope, tempered by trepidation.
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