Where to begin with this one? The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is book 2 in the Madd Addam sort-of trilogy, which would’ve been good to know BEFORE I read it. A little while back I was in search of survivalist fiction and peeps raved over this book. So into robot mode I read without thinking to see if it was part of a series. This happens all the time regardless of genre. Shouldn’t publishers make it obvious when you’re about to barge in on a series out of order? Is it so hard to put a “2” in a corner somewhere?
So let’s take this book as it is by itself, out of the series’ context and pretend Atwood wouldn’t mind. It’s nonlinear anyway.
The waterless flood wiped out the world. First the CorpSeCorps seized power and created a society where you either lived under their thumb or you struggled not to drown in the violent slums. Debt forces the poor into dangerous cracks. Scientists are the ultimate weapon against other countries, but what they’re so valued for nobody on the streets knows or bothers to think about it. The’re too busy trying to eat and not die.
The story is told through two females a generation apart, Toby and Ren. We begin at different times in different places. Toby stands alone after the flood wondering how much we have lost and how much we need to restore within ourselves. She survived, the only one who didn’t believe love could save her. Now she’s hoping a meager garden and diet of expired beauty products can.
Before the flood, Ren sits in a break room of sorts watching the life she’s chosen for herself. She’s finally starting to trust she can take care of herself. There’s sex and dancing, alcohol and experimental drugs promising the world to a young woman who grew up first with The Gardeners and then back under the thumb of the CorpSeCorps.
To understand this world, Atwood takes us to different moments in time in Toby and Ren’s lives. Where Toby’s life was saved and changed forever by The Gardeners, where she began to practice herbal healing and talk to bees, and where she joined the ranks of Adams and Eves and discovered that behind closed doors The Gardeners are connected to a growing network of subversive communities unafraid.
It doesn’t take a wild imagination to grasp this world. Much of it is a magnified version of how we live today, where pharma and agribusiness takes far more liberties with our food, medicine and environment than most acknowledge.
At first it seems like only The Gardeners see the waterless flood coming to wash it all away and throw survivors back to a time where we must live by our own wits and resources. On the surface, they’re about vegetarianism and protesting big business, boycotting Corps and healing the Earth. Through Toby and Ren’s involvement you learn what a complex and dangerous game they play. Yet they gather and pray and care for one another like any organized congregation.
Here’s a passage from The Gardener’s Oral Hymnbook (because anything you write down can be used against you):
Oh, would I were, like serpents, wise
To sense the wholeness of the whole
Not only with a thinking brain,
But with a swift and ardent soul
What’s better: life before when you’re hyper aware that you’re using up the Earth and it’s almost gone, or after the flood when survival of the fittest proves just as brutal and senseless. At least after there’s hope.
The characters who do survive have a whole lot more to contend with than feeding themselves and avoiding the body-melting plague. At some point, living with The Gardeners turned them into warriors. But The Gardeners aren’t the only ones still around. A splinter group known as Madd Addam arose before the flood. They’ve traded the soft, nonviolent side of The Gardeners and carried out attacks on big business franchises. Who is more fit to survive now – maybe we’ll know in book 3.
First we have to read Oryx and Crake, the first book. When the third book will be out, nobody knows. Have you read this yet? No spoilers on book 1. (Just kidding. What happens? Is it good? Do tell.)