Providing an alternate view of the years leading up to the Waterless Flood, Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of the Flood is an intriguing follow-up to Oryx and Crake. While it isn’t absolutely necessary to have read Oryx and Crake first, I would advise reading them around the same time (I only read Oryx and Crake about four months ago and I feel like I need to reread it). Order isn’t important but the two are really two sides of the same coin.
Told from two characters’ perspectives along with sermons and hymns from the God’s Gardeners, The Year of the Flood doesn’t exactly pick up where Oryx and Crake left off. Instead, it gives the reader alternate views of events leading up to the Waterless Flood, more of a simultaneous narrative. Toby finds and remains with the God’s Gardeners through necessity while Ren’s mother brought her into their midst for very different reasons. Each supplies her own perspective on the Gardeners as well as the world where they are outcasts.
There is a great deal of overlap in the timelines of The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake, far more than I had anticipated. It was satisfying to have the opportunity to find out more about some favorite background characters from Oryx and Crake, to get a different view of that novel’s narrator, Jimmy/Snowman, and to have an entirely new character in Toby.
Though Jimmy makes several appearances, The Year of the Flood’s narrators work to fill in details and further round out the story that he first told. The difference between his self-centered, self-chastising view and the two female perspectives is incredible. They’re each tainted with their own ideas and prejudices, but through the combination, a clearer picture begins to emerge. The biggest change in narrative between the two books comes in the main location of the narrators. Jimmy and his Oryx and Crake narrative spend most of their time on the compounds run by the CorpSeCorp where the God’s Gardeners occupy the pleeblands.
One of my favorite aspects of both these books is the way Atwood plays with language. The origins of words and what they’re used for were a favorite subject of Jimmy’s. In The Year of the Flood, the focus is more on the physicality of words, the meaning of a written tradition versus an oral one. With each of the sermons provided, there is an accompanying hymn (there is even a CD available Hymns of the God’s Gardeners). I’ve also heard the audio book edition of The Year of the Flood highly recommended, even by those who had already purchased and read a hardcopy.
Even with two novels, it’s clear at the end of The Year of the Flood that there is still a lot of the story that hasn’t been told. Luckily, Atwood has already admitted that there is another book in the works, currently titled MaddAddam. I’m definitely looking forward to this next promised installment as each book adds to the complexity of the story as a whole. Though Jimmy felt responsible and blamed himself for what happened in Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood shows that there’s a lot of responsibility and blame to go around.