Margaret Atwood’s latest The Year of the Flood follows two primary story tellers Toby and Ren. While jumping around in time we learn how Toby and Ren are brought in to the Gardeners, an eco-religious group led by Adam One (who opens up each section with a homily regarding one of the feast days that is being celebrated). Toby joined to escape her violent boss at Secretburger (it’s not really a secret what’s in the burgers, and really you don’t want to know); while Ren was brought to the group by her mother Lucerne, when she was a child, but when Ren was a teenager her mom left the group to rejoin “society” and her husband, once her love affair fell apart with Gardener Zeb. Who is Zeb? A Gardener who becomes part of a splinter group when he no longer agrees with the methods of Adam One. When Ren is removed she does not just leave a home she has grown up in, but also leaves behind her best friend Amanda, who she brought in to the Gardeners.
As we alternate in narration from Ren to Toby over various years before and after the waterless flood, we are given a glimpse into this dystopian world, with the fringe society of the Gardeners and the mainstream society living in the Compounds (corporate-owned gated communities).
Jumping to year Twenty-five (the year of the flood), Toby is undercover hiding as manager of Anoo Yoo Spa, a high-end spa catering to the youth-obsessed women, while Ren works at the sex club Scales and Tails. Both women are protected via different circumstances when the waterless flood hits, and now must try to figure out their place in this permanently altered world.
Yes, there is a lot going on with this book, and with the movement in time I don’t want to write any spoilers so I am only putting a very top-line summary of the two main characters. But, there are many interesting characters and plots intermingled in this tale. I found myself most drawn to Ren because she was very relate-able. While a Gardener she was resentful of the material goods outsiders had, since she could still remember her nice clothes and access to showers, but once she rejoined that society she had a hard time reintegrating.
This book was unlike anything I have read in awhile, and while it was dark, with Atwood’s storytelling I saw the green of the plants she described and the wild colors of the Mo’hairs (whose long, colored hair was used for wigs). I felt not only the oppressive heat but the fear – the fear of being hunted, the fear of being left behind and the fear of what was ahead. All of these elements mixed in to kept me turning the page.
To me this book wasn’t a get cozy, curl up and settle in with a cup of tea book. It was a sit up straight and pay attention book filled with messages on religion, environmentalism and other issues. In fact if you go to the Web site for The Year of the Flood you will find a section titled “Neat Stuff” where, among other things, you can nominate a “saint” (who are honored by The Gardeners every day) and even calculate your own carbon footprint.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC to read.
The Year of the Flood
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: September 22, 2009 (hardcover)
Publisher: Nan A. Talese