Suspension of Disbelief: The Year of the Flood
Suspension of Disbelief is a weekly feature, in which we review movies, books, TV shows, and other popular culture for the skeptical teen.
It’s been over a month since I posted a review of the Margaret Atwood dystopia Oryx and Crake. After reading that book I just had to read its – not sequel, exactly, but companion piece – The Year of the Flood. And I wasn’t disappointed.
I should explain exactly what I mean by “companion piece.” The Year of the Flood takes place contemporaneously with Oryx and Crake. Jimmy and the eponymous Crake and Oryx make fleeting appearances, but, while O&C dealt with events and life in the Compounds, TYotF focuses much more on the relationships of the two main protagonists, Ren and Toby, and their lives as members of the eco-religion God’s Gardeners.
The God’s Gardeners are a radical – but inherently peaceful – environmentalist group lead by Adam One. They are strict vegetarians and more or less self-sufficient, which in the pleeblands is no easy feat. Adam One preached of a coming apocalypse – a “Waterless Flood” – that will wipe out nearly all of humanity, leaving only the faithful. The Gardener dogma is based on an environmentalist interpretation of the Bible, but it eventually becomes apparent that this is a post hoc justification. The Gardeners were mentioned only in passing in O&C, in reference to protests of unsustainable farming practices and the like. In TYotF we get a closer look at who the God’s Gardeners are and what role they played in the coming catastrophe.
But back to Toby and Ren. Both have lived hard lives, bereft of people who actually cared for them. Both of Toby’s parents die tragically, forcing her to abandon her real identity and hide underground. Really, it’s amazing that Toby survived to experience the Flood. She was repeatedly raped and was constantly in fear of her life. Until she was rescued by the Gardeners.
Ren was born in the Compounds, but her mother took her to join the Gardeners after falling for Zeb (aka MaddAddam), one of the religion’s leaders. However, Ren was never really cared for by her mother; one gets the sense that Ren was only a burden. Ren, however, finds a best friend in Amanda, a charismatic pleebrat who joins the Gardeners under mildly suspicious circumstances.
In a way, TYofF is a very different book from O&C. It follows the same narrative style; most of the story is relayed in flashbacks. But it lacks the suspense of O&C. Which makes sense. If you’ve read the previous book, you are privy to information that the characters aren’t. But it is a no less satisfying read. Toby and Ren are well developed (yes, female characters are well developed!) whose relationships grow and die in a very real way. They are just trying to survive, which is something you can feel in every written word.
With this book, Margaret Atwood creates a much more full picture of this world. It illustrates the full effect of income inequality and environmental degradation on the haves and the have-nots. The world in which Ren and Toby live is completely different from Jimmy’s and Crake’s, but it’s just as unsettling.
My one complaint is that I don’t feel like Atwood revealed enough about God’s Gardeners, how they developed, and how they became so powerful. I can’t help but think that there is more to Adam One and certain members of the inner circle. In essence, I think the reader only gets a glimpse of what goes on beneath the surface.
As I was reading this book it became increasingly clear to me that, while both Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are fascinating satires of modern society, the most interesting story in the series will be the story of MaddAddam, the not-so-pacifist group that splits off from God’s Gardeners. MaddAddam appeared a bit in O&C and a bit more in TYotF, but it is still shrouded in mystery. I suspect the line between MaddAddam and God’s Gardeners is much more blurred than the first two books are letting on. But I’m just speculating.
The Year of the Flood works as a stand-alone story, as the true nature of the Flood is gradually revealed along the way, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (And I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading them out of order.) Watching Ren and Toby experience the post-Flood world with limited information is surprisingly heart-breaking and doesn’t render their stories moot. O&C and TYotF together create a three dimensional world that is more believable than the classic dystopias. It’s a world that is startlingly recognizable to those who are paying attention, which makes it all the more terrifying and absorbing.
Featured image credit: Open Library