The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Short Review: This is a great book, but the audio version has a flaw that really annoyed me. I want a re-cut, just for me, sans music. I doubt I’ll get it.
Long Review: I love the book itself, perhaps even more than I loved Oryx and Crake. Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and I’m intrigued by the world she is creating in these books. The second book particularly appeals to me because it focuses much more closely on the female characters trapped in this terrible future Earth Atwood considers. As much as I loved the first book, I wanted to throttle the protagonist, in part because he was so dismissive of the women and girls he knew. Campbell Scott’s fantastic narration made me like Jimmy/Snowman in the audiobook much more than I liked him on paper. In this book, following the female characters was less frustrating, but more importantly, it struck closer to home. Women fair differently during revolutions and social collapses, and I can’t help but wonder how the women are doing whenever I read an account of a war or revolution or a dystopia. Atwood scratched that itch for me with this book.
Atwood has a chance to flesh out this future Earth more clearly with the second book, and the picture she paints continues to be damn near terrifying. We learn more about people Jimmy knew before the waterless flood occurred, and we see how people are managing to survive. Since we’re following the women of the greater story, we particularly see the nasty conclusion of the erosion of women’s rights–Atwood stuck a pin right into one of my hot-spots with that one.
The main characters of this book are Ren, a young exotic dancer, and Toby, an herbalist. Both are members of God’s Gardeners, an eco-cult, for some portion of their lives, and both manage to survive the “waterless flood” set off in Oryx and Crake. Ren is younger and more innocent, Toby older and more street-wise. Both survive through a combination of luck and intelligence, and both suffer greatly. It’s not light, this book, but it’s thoroughly good.
The narration is good throughout, and I think all three narrators did an excellent job. I was annoyed by the continual mispronunciation of the name “Nuala,” but tried to convince myself that in this terrible future, society had so collapsed that no one knew how to say that beautiful Irish name (which has only two syllables). The readers all pace themselves well, and the three voices work together nicely and help to denote changes in speaker smoothly but clearly.
What made me grit my teeth, though, is the music. The damn ill-considered, inappropriate music. Several sections of the book end with songs. I’m fine with that on paper, but in the audiobook, they’re bad. Really bad. And they’re not bad in an understandable “well, I’ve never been a fan of religious music, but that still makes sense” way. They’re disconnected from the audiobook in a way they just can’t be in the paper book, because the problem is in the arrangements and production. The songs follow sermons for the God’s Gardeners. In the paper book, I think the reader assumes that the songs are sung by the congregation that just listened to the sermon. But as things start to collapse around the world in the book, nothing changes about the arrangements of the songs. Nothing. As electric grids stop functioning and people begin protecting themselves in any way they can, the over-produced soul-less quasi-Christian rock doesn’t alter. WHY? Seriously, what is with that? I decided to skip the horrid, non-diegetic music to make it through the rest of the book, which I otherwise loved.
I’m sure I’ll listen to the book again, but I’m also sure I’ll skip every single song when I do. I wish someone with a truly abiding love of music had given more thought to the inclusion of these songs in the audiobook, because they’re so wrong-headed.