A fringe religious group is teaching about environmental harmony in a world that is progressively becoming more tightly controlled, more wasteful, and more out of sync with the environment around it. Looking ahead to the end of the world, their prophet, Adam One, warns that the apocalypse is coming and attempts to prepare his flock of misfits and scientists by teaching how to live at one with the world they once used thoughtlessly.
Margaret Atwood’s books are startling cautionary tales, situations currently happening in the world taken to extremes. In A Handmaid’s Tale, it was warning of taking religion too far; in this book, it’s wastefulness. This book is a spinoff of Oryx and Crake, a novel that takes place in parallel to the world of The Year of the Flood, and a few of the main characters of Oryx and Crake have brief cameos, though the storyline is not similar.
I do, however, have some complaints. I must temper them with the warning that I have been a consummate fan of both Atwood’s and of the genre of speculative fiction as a whole, and that I do appreciate this book.
-First, this book was sometimes hard to follow. The narrative would skip through time periods and characters in a manner that I occasionally found incredibly frustrating; I would end up losing track and skipping back to the beginning of the chapters just to find out who and when I was reading about.
-Second, the tempo of the narrative was amazingly slow – and then when the end of the world happened, it was skimmed over in a couple of pages just to find a ponderous aftermath that did not feel anywhere near as dire as the situation demanded it to be.
-Third, I never really clicked with the characters. I think the only one who really grabbed hold of me was Toby, but I couldn’t make myself care about the fates of anyone else. This is not to say that they are not fleshed out fully – if anything, the opposite is true. Atwood truly did her best to make her these environmental hippies cum end of the world religious activists seem particularly human, and this is one of her strengths. They just didn’t matter much to me.
-Fourth, there were a couple of plot holes that absolutely drove me insane. I got to them, and I’d end up stopping to dwell on them to try and figure out explanations. I really felt like I’d been jerked out of the story to try and figure out her literary devices.
Noting those things, I would also like to say that while I enjoyed this book, it wasn’t for the reasons most people would.
I always find Atwood’s writing to be something like a meditation. It’s got a comfortable, calm rhythm to it, and forces itself to work at its own pace through your head, which can sometimes be somewhat disconcerting. The diction is amazingly believable; it’s amazing how lifelike the mental conversation can be. Her writing is what I resort to if I’m anxious – even if she is writing about disturbing situations, it is always in a methodical, lyrical manner that forces you to be calm when you think about it. Maybe I’m silly to think of it in that manner, but I will always appreciate that characteristic of her writing, that earthy, deliberate contemplation of existence.
Atwood’s writing also pairs amazingly well with that of Sheri S. Tepper’s; Atwood is a master of the first person account of a disaster, Tepper that of the third person. Often, what they write about is similar and with that sort of sideways take on what is current in the world, though Tepper’s are usually placed in a much more unfamiliar setting.
Would I recommend this book? Certainly, to those who truly enjoy the genre of speculative fiction. Will I be rereading it endlessly like I did A Handmaid’s Tale? Probably not; while I enjoyed it, it’s not compelling enough to want to revisit.