Set at some unspecified point in the near future, Year of the Flood follows a loosely-connected group of characters trying to navigate and survive a dystopian future. The world is run by corporations who happy to carry out genetic research on the population and extinguishing any people or groups who get in their way. One of these groups is the Gardeners – a church of religious vegans who believe that the world will be decimated by the flood: a global pandemic that will kill a sizeable proportion of the world’s population.
And as it turns out, they were right on the money.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the sheer number of characters made up the story. So many in fact, that I often got lost as the viewpoint changed across chapters and points in time (the timeline switches between pre-flood and post-flood). Fortunately, it settled down once the story solidified and the characters became grounded.
As with the Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood paints a dark future for women; unless they’re lucky enough to be born into wealth and/or influence, their choices seem limited to sex work. And in that regard, the book is pretty grim. Without going into too much graphic detail, we meet a number of men who seem to regard rape and assault as a perk of the job. Still, they’re balanced out with host of strong, capable women who somehow manage to navigate their way through the story. We meet some of the characters when they were quite young, so they grew up in this world, eventually losing their innocence, but gaining an emotional suit of armour on the way. Atwood certainly takes her time with this growth, so nothing feels rushed or unrealistic.
What really stands out for me is the world building. The author uses the senses to the fullest, creating an environment you can feel – and smell, unfortunately. The technology is believable without being dull and overdone, and the genetics element is genuinely scary (I mean, why would anyone cross a lion with a sheep?) And then there’s the sense of hierarchy: a handful of super-rich treating the planet as their garbage dump. Does make one wonder if we don’t deserve everything that’s coming to us.
A very long, involved story that is, nevertheless, well worth reading.