I really enjoyed Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood a couple of years ago and have finally got round to reading the second book in her acclaimed MaddAddam trilogy ‘The Year of the Flood’. Set in the same universe as ‘Oryx and Crake’, ‘The Year of the Flood’ follows a lower class eco-religious cult known as the God’s Gardeners and their alternative perspective of the same apocalypse. Only two women from the community, Toby and Ren, survive the catastrophe which was predicted years earlier by the Gardeners who coined it the Waterless Flood.
Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction isn’t usually my genre of choice but it feels more relevant than ever at the moment. Looking past all the strange names for characters, places and objects in this speculative universe reveals a lot of intriguing parallels with the world as it is today or could become in the future. Atwood has previously said that any aspect of the setting depicted in the MaddAddam trilogy has the potential to turn into reality depending on how the technology that exists today is developed in the coming decades. Indeed, the reference to a Wall being built to keep the Tex-Mexican refugees out because a fence on its own wasn’t enough suggests that certain aspects of Atwood’s speculation may not be so far from coming true.
More of a companion novel than a chronological sequel or prequel, ‘The Year of the Flood’ initially has very little character cross-over with ‘Oryx and Crake’. However, more elements from the first book are gradually introduced and it is eventually revealed how Jimmy and Glenn became known as Snowman and Crake respectively. Much of ‘The Year of the Flood’ focuses on what happened to Toby and Ren and how they came to join the God’s Gardeners before disease wipes out the majority of the population. Their stories raise important questions about the impact of consumerism, environmental disasters, genetic engineering, powerful conglomerates and gender politics.
By expanding on the themes and ideas introduced in ‘Oryx and Crake’, ‘The Year of the Flood’ is inevitably more sprawling and less focused than the first book of the series and, unsurprisingly, it remains unrelentingly bleak in the way that post-apocalyptic novels often are. However, Atwood’s ability to explore both the satirical and the sinister elements in her speculative fiction with such intelligence and inventiveness is completely unmatched. I look forward to reading the third and final book in the series ‘MaddAddam’.