Book Review: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has imagined a fantastically plausible future. In The Year of the Flood, she describes how things might unfold: environmental mayhem, drastic climate change and genetic engineering gone wrong.

Given the main themes, I expected this book to be a little depressing. Instead, I was fascinated by so many aspects of the novel:

  • Chapters begin with a hymn of the God’s Gardeners, a fictional religious group concerned about humanity’s abuse of the environment. Atwood wrote the lyrics. Orville Stoeber composed original musical accompaniment for the hymns. If you’re curious, you can audition a few of the songs on Stoeber’s YouTube channel.
  • The author morphed the English language to suit the story. I was particularly impressed with the long list of neologisms, including Happicuppa, Exfernal world, SecretBurger, pleebrat, pleebs, Young Bioneer, bimplants, AnooYoo, SeksMart, Sea/H/Ear Candies, HelthWyzer and CorpSeCorps. This aspect of the book reminded me of “An Orison of Sonmi~451” in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
  • I paid particular attention to the regular appearance of honey bees. To me, the bees symbolized many characteristics of God’s Gardeners: hard work, cooperation, selflessness and diligence. Perhaps my interest in the role of bees in The Year of the Flood has its roots in The Incomparable Honeybee.
  • God’s Gardeners accept God and science. If only the real world could find a way to reconcile so thoroughly creationism and evolution.
  • I haven’t read Oryx and Crake (the first book in the trilogy) so I was pleased that The Year of the Flood can easily be read as a stand-alone book.
  • The main characters, Ren and Toby, are both women who survive the near annihilation of humanity. I found myself really pulling for them – and for the human race. Atwood imbues each of them with tremendous mental strength, creativity and depth of spirit. As I read the final few pages, I felt a sense of hope. I wonder if it’s warranted? Perhaps I’ll find the answer to that question in the pages of MaddAddam (book 3), which was released in August 2013.

Stephen Lewis will defend The Year of the Flood in Canada Reads 2014. CBC’s Canada Reads website explains Lewis selected the book “[b]ecause he believes the health of the environment is one of the most important issues facing humanity today…Lewis feels this issue is particularly pertinent to Canadians because ‘Canada is one of the most lamentable nations in the world in responding to the environment.’ The Year of the Flood came out in 2009, but Lewis feels it’s more relevant than ever — just look at the floods in Calgary [in 2013].”

I RATE THIS BOOK: 4.5 stars

I use pretty much the same rating system as Goodreads where 1 star = did not like it, 2 stars = it was OK, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, and 5 stars = it was amazing. Unlike Goodreads, I allow half stars.

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