Cecily's Reviews > The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Oct 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: dystopian, canada-and-usa
Read from October 26 to November 05, 2011


This story is parallel to "Oryx and Crake" (reviewed here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), and has several characters in common, though the writing style and overall format is quite different.

Having read both, I can't decide whether it is better to read them in publication order (O&C first) or not, but it's certainly good to read them in quick succession. As with O&C, it is about the characters; many aspects are only ever partially explained, part way through, leaving the reader suitably disoriented in this distopian world.

The third in the trilogy, MaddAddam (reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), just fills in bits between these two that don't really need filling in.


It tells of the run up to and aftermath of "the waterless flood" in the near future: a man-made plague, which has wiped out most of the population and damaged the climate. It focus on an eco-religious community (cult?) called God's Gardeners. They foresee the flood and prepare for it, and in the interim, they are self-sufficient vegetarians, who scrounge scraps to reuse and recycle, and avoid the corrupt CorpSeCorp (police) and corporations that run society: "They view us as twisted fanatics who combine food extremism with bad fashion sense and a puritanical attitude to shopping. But we own nothing they want."


Every third or fourth chapter is a sermon by Adam One, followed by the words of a hymn. The result is a curious combination of anti-capitalist eco treatise and satire, Biblical-style liturgy, and end-of-the-world fight for survival, with dashes of bathetic humour - but overall, Atwood makes it work.


The story focuses on resilient, loyal female characters: Toby, who escapes various abuses to join the Gardeners as an adult, and Ren, who is taken from the safe luxury of a corporate compound when her mother runs away with a gardener. The male characters are flat and in the background (even the leader, Adam One) or bad (Blanco), though somehow it doesn't feel like a feminist rant. Ren's sections are mostly recounted in the first person and Toby's in the first.

Eco Survival etc

Although it jumps around timewise, the first part of the book has plenty of positive aspects (and some vague angst), whereas the later sections are unrelenting accounts of the lengths (and depths) people will go to in order to survive, even when they are unsure if it is worth it: "This thing I'm doing can hardly be called living, Instead I'm lying dormant, like a bacterium in a glacier. Getting time over with."

The eco theme is obvious, but actually, the exploration of cult mentality is more fundamental and interesting, and it raises far more questions than it answers, exploring the many reasons why people join - and remain in - cults: no where/one else, fear, idealism, escape, drifting, actual belief, loneliness, wanting to be taken care of and not have to make decisions, even just by accident. And of course, power tends to corrupt. The senior Gardeners (Adams and Eves) break and adjust their own rules. For example, they have (and use) a laptop ("It's like the Vatican porn collection... safe in our hands") and they make surprisingly pragmatic changes to their belief system, looking for reasons to justify them afterwards.

Light in the Darkness

It avoids being depressing by having plenty of gentle humour and irony: a genetically-modified caterpillar has a cute babyish face, making it hard to kill, and at the end of an earnest sermon, Adam One ends "I'm glad we have all remembered our sunhats". For all their ideals, the Gardeners are eminently practical. Another comment of Adam One's is painfully ironic, "'Nothing bad will be done to you.' But since Adam One thought even the most terrible things happened for ultimately excellent though unfathomable reasons, X didn't find this reassuring." Atwood even points out in the acknowledgement that readers are free to use the hymns for "amateur devotional or environmental purposes"! It is also full of punning portmanteaus: the exfernal world, rakunk (rat-skunk), SeksMart, AnooYoo Spa, garboil (oil from garbage), liobamb (lion-lamb).

The End

The ending is very abrupt (very slight (view spoiler)) and after more than 500 pages, I was still unsure whether Atwood wants me to agree with the Gardeners or to laugh at them. Although I tend to like ambiguous endings, I was taken aback and slightly disappointed. However, a few hours later, when I'd really thought about it, I think it was the right way to end.

Edit: After first writing this review, I discovered this wasn't really the end and that there was going to be a third book. Having read that third book, I reiterate the line above, "I think it [Year of the Flood] was the right way to end."

Editor Required

I think it would have benefited from a little pruning - the level of detail about Gardener lifestyle and some of Adam One's sermons, but that's a small quibble about an excellent and original novel.

"Nature full strength is more than we can take... It is a potent hallucinogen, a soporific for the untrained Soul. We're no longer at home in it. We need to dilute it... And God is the same. Too much God and you overdose. God needs to be filtered."

Less reverently, and from a non-Gardener: "As soon as you say 'I'll be dead,' you've said the word I, so you're still alive inside the sentence. And that's how people got the idea of the immortality of the soul - it was a consequence of grammar. And so was God, because as soon as there's a past tense, there has to be a past before the past, and you keep going back in time until you get to 'I don't know', and that's what God is."
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huh. I am a well-documented hater of Atwood, but this review actually makes it sound like something I'd enjoy. Maybe I'll try it, and hope for third time's the charm.

Cecily Gosh, I hope I haven't over-sold it, but it is an interesting book. I picked mine up at a charity shop, so if you do likewise, even if you don't like, what little money you spend will go to a good cause!

Jeffrey Keeten Great minds think a like Cecily. Nice review.

Jason Personally I thought maybe reading this first didn't work, because I thought Oryx would be equally excellent, but almost the only elements I like in Oryx are direct connections with Flood.

Cecily I haven't seen much discussion of reading order.

I read Oryx when it was published, then this when it was published, and shortly afterwards, I reread Oryx. That didn't generate a strong preference for sequence, but I'd be interested to know the opinions of others.

Apatt I avoided reading this review before I finished the book as I'd be tempted to copy / paste the whole thing and pass it off as my own work triggered by a momentary spark of genius after consuming vast quantities of fish.

Any way, glad I got around to reading it now :)
Ah! so many things I forgot to mention! I need to write notes in the margin of every page (except I read on Kindles now and too lazy to make note in any case).

message 7: by Cecily (last edited Aug 11, 2013 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily I thought you could annotate on a Kindle?

(Thanks for your kind words.)

Apatt Cecily wrote: "I thought you could annotate on a Kindle?

(Thanks for your kind words.)"

Yes, but not if you are lazy. I just like to plow through books. I read the way I eat I think, sloppy!

Cecily You're not under contract, so read (and write) in whatever way works for you, though if you seriously write your reviews without making any sort of notes as you go, I'm impressed.

Apatt I do make the odd notes on some books, sometime. I'm inconsistent; there is no method in my madness.
I just noted the phrase "sorrowful pleasure" from War & Peace (audio book, 80% so far). Crazy phrase, love it!

Cecily Apatt wrote: "...I just noted the phrase "sorrowful pleasure" from War & Peace..."

I do love a good oxymoron. Thanks.

message 12: by Christina (new) - added it

Christina Perhaps you could put "spoiler alert" in this review? I have not yet year of floods and your review told me the ending scene.

message 13: by Cecily (last edited Sep 19, 2013 12:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Sorry you're upset, Christina. However, my review doesn't say anything at all about what happens, merely that (view spoiler). It doesn't even say if it goes on to hint or tell you what might happen after that glimpse. Rest assured, I really don't think it will spoil anything for you. Nevertheless, I have put that sentence in spoiler tags.

Teresa "... the writing style and overall format is quite different."

Which is one of the reasons I liked O&C better than this one.

message 15: by Cecily (last edited Oct 17, 2014 05:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily I rather liked the contrasting styles of the first two.

Then MaddAddam tried to combine those styles, though I think it's failings as a novel were not so much that, as the fact it didn't really add anything worthwhile to the story outlined in the previous two.

message 16: by Dolors (new)

Dolors I also remember being somehow put off by the abrupt --and desolate--ending in "The Handmaid Tale". This is one of the reasons why I have been postponing revisiting Atwood's novels.

Cecily Atwood's not an obvious go-to author if you like tidy happy endings (which I don't especially).

Teresa I agree about the 3rd volume of the trilogy, Cecily, though my main issue was with its narration.

Cecily Teresa wrote: "I agree about the 3rd volume of the trilogy, Cecily, though my main issue was with its narration."

I've read so many reviews of these books in the last 48 hours, I'm losing track somewhat I liked the contrasting narrative styles of Oryx and Crake compared with Year of the Flood. But MaddAddam tried to combine both, but I've mentioned that in my review of MaddAddam (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...).

Teresa Cecily wrote: "... "I liked the contrasting narrative styles of Oryx and Crake compared with Year of the Flood."

I agree. The Year of the Flood's narration was almost as banal as Zeb's -- a good word you used for his in one of your comments under one of the reviews -- I too am losing track!

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