Earlier this year I read Atwood's speculative novel, Oryx and Crake and while it wasn't the type or style of book I would normally pick up I found myself totally immersed in it. I quickly went to my library to get the next novel written about the same period in the earth's future/history, The Year Of The Flood and started reading it right away but I found that I needed to spend some time out of this version of the world and move on to some other reading for a while. I came back to it this past weekend and found myself just as absorbed as I had been when I first picked up Oryx and Crake.
It has been said that you can read these two books separately and in any order but I really felt I enjoyed The Year Of The Flood more for having read Oryx and Crake first. I felt that O&C gave a more general overview of the author's created world and what was happening within it while The Year Of The Flood provided a more focused perspective.
The Year Of The Flood starts off by introducing us to the God's Gardeners - an environmental religious group who believe that all life (animal, plant and human) is sacred and to be respected. Atwood does a fantastic job of describing the group and their intricacies and beliefs and each section of the novel is opened by a speech/sermon from the group's leader, Adam One and a hymn from the groups hymn book. I have to say I found these sermons a little annoying and preachy as the book went on (reminded me too much of being in church as a child!) but maybe that was the author's intent?? However, they did perform a function of showing the internal development of the group as well as the way they were being impacted on by people and the environment around them.
The Year Of The Flood also focuses more on female characters than O&C. The two main characters that are followed are Toby and Ren - two women who have joined the God's Gardeners group for different reasons. Toby is brought into the group as a form of safety after her parents have died and she is forced to work in an abusive and dangerous environment and Ren is brought to the group by her mother when she begins a relationship with one of the groups senior members, or "Adams". I thought with this focus on female characters I would have enjoyed Flood more but I have to say that I feel O&C is my favourite book out of the two. That is not to take anything away from Flood - it is another clever and intriguing book by Atwood. I can't believe the strength and bounds of this woman's imagination! Although some would say that some of the elements described in both these books could be scarily close to coming true in our own world - particularly in relation to the environmental aspects and the destruction of whole species and their habitats.
Atwood's writing, as always, is sharp and descriptive - her characters have depth and complexity - you care about what happens to them - good or bad.
The ending of the book is deliberately open - is Atwood planning a third book?? I hope so!