As many of you know, each year I read most of the books on the American Library Association Notable Books List. The list is typically announced in January–about 25 books including fiction and nonfiction, with a couple of poetry added in. I do the reading, and then in October, November, and December, I give presentations around and about, describing this year’s books. The books tend to be fairly literary and serious, although each year’s list has a few gems even for a reader looking for something frivolous or easy or funny.
In my reading calendar around September, I get to the Notable titles that I have put off reading, usually because they’ve struck me as likely downers, or too thick and slow, or too serious (which for me is often the same as thick and slow).
So, here it is, late September, and I finally picked up Margaret Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood.” It’s a sequel to her earlier, “Oryx and Crake.” I put it off because I knew it was set in a dystopian future, and since I’ve read Margaret Atwood before, I know that when she writes about hopeless…well, it’s hopeless.
I got up early and finished it this morning before going to work, I was that taken with the story. It’s set in a future where chaos and corporations reign, where pharmaceutical research creates crazy animals, plagues, and sexual explosion, and where bodies are dumped for scavengers to process. The story itself revolves around a group of people called The Gardeners who nurture rooftop gardens, who’ve created a religious world based on nature and vegetarianism.
As the story opens, it seems that only a few people have survived a plague. Two of them are former Gardeners. Their stories of survival eventually wend them back to The Gardeners. Through flashbacks, Atwood shows us the back story on two women, Ren and Toby. They work their way through the wreck of the world that remains, not trusting the health or intentions of other people, watching their supplies run low, and being forced out of the places that offer refuge.
I tend to think that most novels set in other times are really about our present, and I believe that of “The Year of the Flood.” Atwood writes a ripping good story, but the questions she raises are of our time. How are we taking care of the world? What DO we worship? What will be the outcome of scientific advances that are mostly about money? What price will people pay to be attractive? Where does materialism get us? Those are addressed even as the reader soldiers on, hoping that Toby and Ren survive to create a new life among their old friends.
I wasn’t ready for the ending. I turned the final page, expecting another chapter.
I’ll recommend this to people who appreciate good writing–Atwood places people carefully, and she uses dialogue so well, allowing people to reveal much about themselves as they seem to describe others. Toby and Ren are imperfect characters, yet I found myself caring what happened to them. In the plain old-fashioned sense, I wanted to know how the story ended.
I’ll probably also recommend this to people who are concerned about the environment, since that is a major aspect of this book.
And I’ll recommend it to people who say that they don’t care for dystopian novels or science fiction or books set in the future…I would have said that, too, but I enjoyed “The Year of the Flood” immensely.