Like many of you the first novel of Margaret Atwood’s that I read was The Handmaid’s Tale. I remember feeling utterly bewildered by it at the time. Truth be told it was probably a bit over my head. In Junior High I went into adult novel high gear and routinely devoured anything that didn’t involve girls my own age. A dystopian world of women forced to become surrogates for wealthy and well placed couples was quite a departure from my usual diet of V.C. Andrews and Jude Deveraux but because I found the book on my Aunt Beth’s bookshelf I simply had to read it.
Years later though I appreciate Margaret Atwood’s novels thoroughly. From Alias Grace to The Robber Bride each story is beautifully developed and seems to always stay with me in a haunting manner. This was doubly true for the apocalypse fueled Oryx and Crake. Interestingly enough Atwood chose to revisit the world she created in this novel in her latest work, The Year of the Flood. Whereas Oryx and Crake was told from the perspective of two men, The Year of the Flood is told from the viewpoint of two women: Toby and Ren.
At the opening of the novel a virus has decimated humanity. Toby has sealed herself inside the luxury spa she managed where thankfully many of the treatments she used on clients are edible. Ren, a trapeze artist, is trapped inside the high-end sex club that she danced at. Food is running low and both women wonder if anyone besides themselves have survived the unnatural element that has wiped out society. A disaster that was vocally predicted by Adam One the leader of the pro-animal and vegetarian activists the God’s Gardner’s whom they both followed in the past.
The novel deftly moves between Toby and Ren’s respective back stories and the horrors of their present day confinement. Reader’s of Oryx and Crake will fully recognize familiar plot points including the CorpsSeCorps (the corrupt corporation that essentially has taken over all aspects of the American life), Rakunks (half skunk, half raccoon engineered animals without a skunk smell), and of course Jimmy aka “Snowman” who had his own connections to the downfall of humanity.
I find Atwood’s ability to create such an alien human existence that feels so completely foreign and yet frankly quite possible given today’s tumultuous environmental and political climate to be an amazing gift. I simply couldn’t put the novel down and found myself racing through the story frantically reading to uncover how Toby and Ren ended up in their respective predicaments. The Year of the Flood will be released on September 22, 2009.