Last Saturday, I sat down, spoiled with treats from the farmers’ market, to re-read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
Today is the day I get reacquainted with The Year of the Flood.
And I’m certainly not the only one who’s spending time with the books in the trilogy this weekend; here’s a peek into Jared Bland’s conversation with the author, anticipating Maddaddam, in the Globe & Mail.)
I’ll follow the same pattern as last week, updating my post regularly, with general spoiler-filled observations, and flagging a bunch of passages, so I can write about the book-as-a-whole some other time.
In my imagination, I expected to finish Oryx and Crake in a single day, but I didn’t finish until Sunday morning; The Year of the Flood is longer, so it will probably be a two-day venture as well.
I’m okay with that; I love re-reading inherently, but Margaret Atwood’s books are amongst my favourite re-reads. There are always new layers to unearth, new details to note, and new connections to draw.
Please feel free to join us (and, if you’re planning to post, either today or in the next while, email your link(s) and I’ll add them to this page.
And, with that, let the reading begin! (If you’re not reading along, you will not want to read the content of this page: you might want to skip to the anchor at the end, here.)
NOTE: Spoilers below
If you’re looking for the music which launches the novel, the tracks (and sheet music and ringtones!) are available here. (Many of the performances can also be viewed on Youtube.) And the trailer for the book is here.
Like Oryx and Crake, the story begins at dawn. In Year Twenty-Five. Not zero hour.
Toby climbs the stairs to watch the sunrise.
She is near a derelict city, the ocean (the source of the waves that Snowman hears?) is distant.
“There must be someone else left, though; she can’t be the only one on the planet. There must be others. But friends or foes? If she sees one, how to tell?”
Ren is looking back in time, to the Waterless Flood, when she was locked in the Sticky Zone, which was, as Amanda would have said, lucky.
(Amanda, whom readers met in Chapter Ten of Oryx and Crake, with her vulture sculptures.)
There are connections, like this one, to the world readers met in Oryx and Crake.
Toby attended the Martha Graham Academy (so did Jimmy), and Toby and Ren worked at AnooYoo (so did Jimmy).
But readers are introduced to other elements of the story as well: Gods Gardeners and their Vegivows, feasts and saints, the Adams and the Eves, SeksMart and Scales and Tails, the Blackened Redfish and the Wolf Isaiahists, the Known Fruits and the Petrobaptists, SecretBurgers and PIlar’s Pickled Murshroom Medley.
Rebecca Eckler appears as a character, working at SecretBurgers, in Chapter 8 (off the page, she is an author who bid $7,000 to have her name attached to one of the characters in this novel), and readers also meet Blanco and Adam One.
Through a series of snapshots, sketched in sharp and bold strokes, readers begin to assemble an understanding of characters and environs (largely from Toby’s perspective in this segment).
From chapter-length to tone, The Year of the Flood is a different reading experience from Oryx and Crake in many ways.
Chapters Eleven through Twenty
Hymn included (“My Body is My Earthly Ark”) and a glimpse into Year Ten
The perspective in this segment is mainly Ren’s, but Toby peeks in too. (Reader Woman’s summary post shows, at a glance, how the perspective shifts).
As much as Oryx and Crake is about isolation, about trying to piece together an understanding assisted by a single narrative voice, The Year of the Flood is about connections, about trying to piece together narrative voices (within this novel and between the two novels thus far in the trilogy).
Amanda’s narrative is secured in the context of Ren’s story, so there is a third significant character in this volume. “Having Amanda living with me was like having a sister only better.”
The God’s Gardeners’ segments (the sermons) are rooted in earlier times, drawing a link between the day of the Waterless Flood and Year Twenty-Five. And as Toby’s and Ren’s segments unfold, their memories dance across the years between (and prior).
But the timeline is as loose as ‘before’ and ‘now’ for readers. So when Toby thinks about how much Pilar would have enjoyed watching the liobams gambol (the spliced lion-lamb), readers are only aware that she is acknowledging past deaths.
“Pilar, and Rebecca, and little Ren. And Adam One. And Zeb. All dead now.” But Toby is still alive. “Why has she been saved alive? Out of the countless millions. Why not someone younger, someone with more optimism and fresher cells? ”
Like Snowman from Oryx and Crake, Toby believes she is alone. Like Snowman, she no longer measures time. Snowman’s story begins and ends at Zero Hour. Toby stops counting the time. “In any case, time is not a thing that passes, said Pilar: it’s a season which you float.”
She climbs up and down the stairs, with her mop handle, as often as Snowman hears the wish-wash of the waves. (And readers wait to learn more of Zeb, who with Lucerne brought Ren to the Gardeners.)
Chapters Twenty-one through Thirty
Including Hymn (“Oh Sing We Now the Holy Weeds”) and a glimpse into Year Twelve
“Where you’d come from, what you’d done before – all of that was irrelevant, their manner implied. Only the Now counted.” Some of the Gardeners are genuine converts, but some pass through like “shadow people” in the pleeblands, like animals in the underbrush.
The Gardeners don’t ask personal questions, but Toby wonders about the members’ past lives anyhow. Including Zeb, Adam Seven, nicknamed Mad Adam by the kids. And Lucerne, who “had pampered Compound wife written all over her”.
And sometimes readers do learn bits of what came before; we can draw connections that matter (or, will matter). So, for instance, we learn that Zeb used to work at HelthWzer (Lucerne recognized him) but had to leave the Compound in a hurry) and he was at school with Adam One.
And there are still connections between the books to note as well.
Sometimes subtle. In the first book, it is noted that a frog gone-a-courtin’ can vocalize in a pipe to make a larger sound and attract a desirable mate and, in the second book, Zeb teaches Amanda and Ren to look as large as possible to avoid the eye of a predator.
Sometimes obvious. In chapter twenty-eight, Glenn brings a jar of honey to Pilar and, when Ren escorts the teenage boy out of the Gardener building, Ren asks him: “So, if you were making the world, you’d make it better?”
Chapters Thirty-one through Forty
And, then, on Mole Day, a direct intersection: Toby sees a “strange procession” which readers recognize to be Snowman leading the Crakers , which she dismisses as a hallucination. And the connections with the events of Oryx and Crake intensify.
Toby is present for a conversation between Adam One and Zeb, concerning the fate of Adam Thirteen, who had been taken away by the CorpsSeCorps: “‘Did he know about Pilar’s tissue samples?’ said Adam One. ‘And our contact in HelthWyzer? Our young courier with the honey jar?'”
And that same teenager, that young courier, whom Ren saw bringing a jar to Pilar, is there at her composting. Zeb is not concerned; in fact, Zeb told the boy about the plans to inter Pilar.
As for Ren, Lucerne fought with Zeb and returned with Ren to the Compound. Ren becomes Brenda and attends HelthWyzer High, where Jimmy attends.
So Ren/Brenda has now crossed paths with both Glenn and Jimmy. The plot, with Pilar’s honey, literally thickens, broadening to hold the threads that readers have hoped would begin to braid.
Chapters Forty-one through Fifty
Hymn included (“God Gave Unto the Animals”; “The Peach or Plum”) and a glimpse into Year Eighteen
This segment of the book is what I craved throughout my reading (and re-reading) of Oryx and Crake, offering another perspective of Jimmy/Snowman’s version of events.
And, in fact, a perspective directly trained on him – and on Glenn. With Ren’s/Brenda’s return to the Compound, the narratives intersect. Readers learn about Glenn’s father’s death and his mother’s defection and, first-hand, witness Jimmy’s mother as a runaway. Finally, we readers have an opportunity to test our understanding of these characters.
And, yet, just as connections are forged (e.g. Jimmy and Brenda, Glenn and Brenda), others are broken.
Lucerne discovers the phone that Amanda gave Ren and confiscates it. And Glenn, the Gardeners’ contact at HelthWyzer, “goes dark”. Which concerns Zeb, Toby learns, because although there are other contacts in the Compound, “[t]his guy’s one of a kind”. Resistance members are killed under mysterious circumstances.
And, still, Toby climbs the stairs. Remembering Year Eighteen, when she “went dark”, became Tobiatha, a manager of the AnooYoo Spa. When Zeb (as MaddAddam, as Spirit Bear) introduces her to Extinctathon, so that Toby/Tobiatha becomes Inaccessible Rail.
Characters reinvent themselves, rename themselves, seek new narratives. “You create your own reality,” the Gardeners said. We readers create our own narrative as we recognize the links between the first and second books in this trilogy.
Hymns included (“Today We Praise Our Saint Dian”; “The Water-Shrew That Rends Its Prey”) and a glimpse into Year Twenty-Four
Beyond the plot elements colliding, the themes in these two volumes pull readers into familiar orbits as Year of the Flood moves towards its conclusion.
“There was Lucerne, who’d told a slanderous whopper about being kidnapped, and now poor Frank, my biofather, really had been kidnapped, and probably murdered as well. It was clear that Lucerne didn’t feel much of anything about that. As for me, I didn’t know what to feel.”
The question of false narratives, of conflict between appearance and reality, and a slide into apathy and numbness: the stitching between the volumes pulls tighter.
“Oh Jimmy, I thought. What’s left of you?” Ren asks, from behind her mask. She barely recognizes him, and readers understand that that is because it is Year Twenty-Four, nearly Year Twenty-Five, and Jimmy won’t be Jimmy for long: soon he will be Snowman.
And Toby, too, in Year Twenty-Five is alone for a long time. When her food supplies run low, even screaming at the pigs for getting into the garden and trampling it (destroying the garden, all allusions encouraged and required) makes her feel better: it’s company.
But, then, with Ren’s return, she has real company. Real company which demands treatment and nourishment. Real company which will soon consume half the food supply. But, for now, Ren is breathing. “In, out, in out. Pause. In. Then out.” Like Toby climbs stairs. Like Snowman’s waves.
Chapters Sixty-Five through Seventy-Seven
Hymns included “When God Shall His Bright Wings Unfold”; “The Longest Mile”; “The Earth Forgives”
It’s all about balance. The breath, the water, the healing. Ren uses honey and mushrooms but, also, maggots. Yes, maggots.
“It takes the maggots three days to clean the wound. Toby watches them carefully: if they run out of dead tissue, they’ll start in on living flesh.”
As part of her recovery, Ren climbs up and down the stairs, and, over time, she tells Toby her story.
“It comes out in short clumps of words punctuated by long periods of staring into space.”
There, too, the question of balance, the words and the silence that comprise a story. The Year of the Flood begins with a sunrise (as did Oryx and Crake), but it ends after moonrise.
“We’re sitting around the fire – Toby and Amanda and me [Ren]. And Jimmy.” And there is a campfire. And there s a line of torches, flickering through the darkness of the trees.
A solitary beginning and a solitary ending and another solitary beginning: now, at last, music and a chorus of voices.