The Year of the flood

I started The Year of the flood by Margaret Atwood with a certain amount of reserve.  I hadn’t particularly enjoyed Oryx and Crake, having found it full of interesting science,  but lacking when it came to characterisation (interestingly, having now read her new book I think I will go back to Oryx and Crake and try again).

I was also a bit worried that I would find the book depressing or over the top in regards to climate change and our future.  However fiction is a powerful medium, and even though I read and hear about the state of our planet, there is something to be said about a novel that is so well written that you feel you know and like the characters, and that you want  to live with them through the experiences of a society so badly affected by climate change and greed.

The Gardeners are a group of future hippies I suppose, perhaps even part of a cult, led by Adam One and his group of Eves and lesser Adams.  There is a strong sense of belief in God, but a God that can get combined with science and evolution.  They have their own hymn book and many chapters end with their quirky numbers.  (These have been put to music and if you wish you can by the CD).The Gardeners are striving to be self-sufficient amongst the ruins of a city controlled by the ruthless CorpsSeCorps, and dominated by the Pleeblands, skunkweed gro-groups and HealthWyzer, a dodgy pharmaceutical group. 

The two main characters are Toby, who with help from the Gardeners manages to escape from a company called “secretburgers”, (yummy meaty burgers containing your worst nightmare), and Ren, a young girl who has been brought up within the Gardeners community.   Toby and Ren are also the two characters that we follow after “The Waterless flood”, a disaster predicted by the Gardeners, that creates the plague eradicated world we experienced in Oryx and Crake.  

There has of course been a number of books and films about this type of scenario, and you may well wonder what would make this book any different from a well-worn path of devastation and horror.  There is also a risk with this type of apocalyptic genre  to feel too outrageous to be taken seriously. This is where The Year of the flood is different.  There is enough that is familiar in the book to make you stop and think.  Many of the scenarios Atwood paints could be the end result of genetic engineering, carbon emissions, and tampering with gene pool and new breeds of animals.  Is it that far out of the realms of possibility that a sheep could be bred with coloured hair, crossed with a lion, or that we would live in such a disposable society that people could be dispensed with in the same way we trade in a new car? It is also just a good read, plenty of intrigue, good (and bad) characters and a fascinating story.

In an effort to lower her carbon footprint, Margaret Atwood is only travelling by train and boat on her promotional tour to promote The Year of the flood in Europe and North America.  You can follow her blog here.


The latest New Zealand Listener has a cover photograph of Witi Ihimaera and the lead story is his apology for his errors in using the writing of other people in his latest work The Trowenna Sea. It tells the story of Hohepa Te Umuroa, who was convicted of insurrection and transported as a convict to Tasmania with four other Maori in the 1840s. The similarities in passages of his work to the words of other writers was uncovered by reviewer Jolisa Gracewood.

Jolisa has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Cornell Universityand has taught non-fiction writing at Yale University.  She was named Reviewer of the Year at the 2006 New Zealand Book Awards and publishes regularly in the New Zealand Listener, the New Haven Advocate, and Landfall.  She  is an occasional contributor to the Public Address blog and has alluded to the controversy in her most recent post.

The Listener also has a back up article about famous examples of plagiarism and what it calls “a fine and ever-changing line between what’s allowable and what’s not.”

On the international stage Britain’s poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion is fighting his corner over vitriolic attacks on using other people’s work in an official Armistice Day poem he wrote.