With the state of the world these days I often fantasize about the end of it, and although my fantasy most likely won’t come true, Margaret Atwood has created a world that will appease one’s apocalyptic appetite.
The Year of the Flood begins with a hymn from The God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook, which spells out how the “greedy Spoilers” came and killed God’s creatures and how all vegetation has been buried by sand.
The hymn, however, ends with the positive proclamation, “Until the Gardeners arise, and life to you restore.”
This is the goal of God’s Gardeners, a cult that aims to rejuvenate the Earth by eating only what it grows, and gleaning necessities from what secular society throws away. While they welcome new recruits, the God’s Gardeners are not the proselytizing type.
The players in this tale consist of: The God’s Gardeners, HelthWyzer (a corrupt pharmaceutical company), the pleebrats (a roving mass of secular materialists), and the CorpSeCorp (a militaristic, corporation-controlled law force that came into power when the government-run police force collapsed due to lack of funding).
It’s Year 25, the year of the Waterless Flood, and Toby (former God’s Gardener) is the solitary inhabitant of what’s left of The AnooYoo Spa, a former house of relaxation and skin treatments. She scans the landscape with her binoculars, only to see animal life such as intelligent pigs that have been implemented with human brain cells. Oddly enough, this makes the pigs a threat to humans.
Ren, also a former Gardener, is a trapeze artist/stripper in the sinful pleasure den known as Scales and Tails. After receiving a bite from a customer through her reptilian/avian Biofilm bodysuit, she ends up in the Sticky Zone quarantine for the potentially infected, which is what spared her from the plague-ridden wrath of the Waterless Flood.
Even in the midst of an apocalypse, pleasure still sells above all else. Adam One is the title of the spiritual leader of the God’s Gardeners, yet there are several other Adams, as well as numerous Eves, each with their own specialty such as self-defense (Zeb) and beekeeping and mushroom cultivation (Pilar). Adam One’s specialty is that he studied epidemics before founding the God’s Gardeners.
The different factions live in relative peace until a radical group known as the Wolf Isaiahists blows up a restaurant that specializes in serving nearly-extinct animals. Then the CorpSeCorp interferes and bans all such groups, whether radical extremist or not, thereby causing the dissolution of the God’s Gardeners.
The members separate and struggle to survive, some with not-so-great results. Food is scarce, especially if you don’t eat meat, and a rogue band of pleebrats that survived the Waterless Flood is roaming the streets, bent on violence and mayhem. Further still, there’s the question of what caused the plague and if the remaining inhabitants of Earth have a future.
The story randomly touches on several years, beginning with Year 5 (Creation Day) and jumping around before ending with Year 25. This creates the need for strict focus on the part of the reader, and might warrant a second reading of the book to gain complete gratification from the read (which I, in fact, did).
That’s not to say that Atwood has created a difficult read, just an intriguing, multi-layered story that requires a restful, focused mind. She creates whimsical images such as a lamb and lion hybrid that adds a sense of playfulness to this apocalyptic tale. Of course, as entertaining as the image is, the symbolism therein is clearly one of biblical significance.
Though struggling to survive in dystopian times, her characters are readily accessible in that they still have to deal with everyday personal issues such as love, loyalty, and abandonment.
Atwood creates parallels with our world today in The Year of the Flood in an unflinching and unapologetic manner, but does so with grace and humor, which is the best strategy for simultaneously entertaining and sending a message.