Margaret Atwood’s newest novel was my trusty companion when I went on that crazy solo trip to Palawan where I got drunk with strangers, rode a killer bus, scored a free tour, walked around Puerto Princesa at four in the morning, fell asleep on a speeding motorcycle (don’t ask), and basically did 101 things that would’ve gotten me killed. Fortunately, I did not die and I was able to finish The Year of the Flood. Yay.
I was introduced to Atwood in college when I read her short stories for English class. I fell in love with her when I read The Handmaid’s Tale and felt that I finally found my feminist heroine. After I finished The Blind Assassin, I adored her so much that I would’ve wrenched out my own liver and handed it to her on a silver platter with cherries on top if she asked for it.
The Year of the Flood tells of a post-apocalyptic future when a man-made plague wiped out a majority of the population and the survivors have to figure out how to stay alive. The plot sounds like Stephen King’s The Stand and in a way, it is quite as creepy and depressing. The story however, doesn’t dwell so much on the aftermath of the so-called waterless flood (in reference to the great flood in the Bible that wiped out humanity) but tells more about the series of events that led to it.
Twenty-five years before the plague struck, the world was highly urbanized, driven by science and propped up by advanced technology. It was also filthy, cruel, unjust and controlled by the powerful. So pretty much like how it is today only they had weird-looking gene-spliced creatures for pets and bred genetically impeccable naked people that for some reason had blue penises.
A cult of vegan nature-lovers who call themselves the Gardeners were trying to rebel against the cold-blooded modernity by doing organic farming on a rooftop, distilling healing potions from plants and isolating themselves from the onslaught of the urban sprawl. Ren and Toby, the central characters of the book, have each found refuge in the eco-friendly religious group.
Ren was just a child when she started living with the Gardeners. She didn’t have much of a choice; her mother took her when she left her dad and ran away with another man who happened to be a member of the group. Toby was an orphan who was rescued by the Gardeners from her abusive boss. They were skeptics at first, merely integrating themselves into the cult out of sheer necessity. But as they survived the waterless flood and were struggling to live through the aftermath, they found themselves imbibing the group’s ideals and rituals on their own.
I must admit, the book wasn’t as riveting as Atwood’s earlier ones. I liked Toby but Ren didn’t elicit as much empathy and there were parts when her side of the narrative was flat and dreary. Atwood still succeeds though in raising philosophical questions about how we live and the things we value as a society. She’s good at that. She forces us to examine our current value system by taking it to the extreme and exposing its hideous ramifications. See, she still deserves my liver.
I must now get my hands on Oryx and Crake which, from what I understand, is a prequel of The Year of the Flood. Maybe that’s the book I’d bring on my next trip where I would hopefully survive yet again the dangers of my own craziness/stupidity. I promise not to fall asleep on a speeding motorcycle next time.