Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood's latest book is The Year of the Flood, a follow-up, in a way, to her 2003 Oryx and Crake.

I did not enjoy Oryx and Crake (you should not consider it a prerequisite), but I did enjoy The Year of the Flood very much. It tells the story, going back and forth in time, of the "waterless flood" - an apocalyptic moment in time that lead to a massive devastation in population. The main character are "God's Gardeners" - a group of people who anticipate the approaching deluge and live off the land, as much as that is possible in a barren landscape. Motivated by a quasi-religion, the doctrine of which is modified along the way to reinforce their teachings (much like, hey, lots of religions!) and make up songs to remind them which weeds and mushrooms are edible.

One of the major themes of the book is food - how over-processed and dubious it is before the flood, how people either eat it or avoid it, like the Gardeners, and how after the flood, there's nothing available but dwindling supplies of pre-packaged food and animal meat, if you've got what it takes to kill the animal. Not surprisingly, a fair number of Gardeners survive, but find it necessary to overcome their strict vegetarianism.

Atwood seems to ascend to no less than visionary status with The Year of the Flood. I read her descriptions of a popular food chain called "Secret Burger" at the same time I was discovering that some yogurt and orange juice brands are not vegetarian (come ON!). I found myself thinking, IS milkweed edible? I'd better pay attention to that rhyme!

Ultimately I found Atwood's book thought-provoking and positive. Lucky for me, my whole reading experience was enhancing by having recently seen her read from the book. What an inspiration she is (not to mention she's 70 years old and writes with such freshness of language!) Here's one of my favorite passages:

Surely I was an optimistic person back then, she thinks. Back there. I woke up whistling. I knew there were things wrong in the world, they were referred to, I'd seen them in the onscreen news. But the wrong things were wrong somewhere else.

By the time she'd reached college, the wrongness had moved closer. She remembers the oppressive sensation, like waiting all the time for a heavy stone footfall, then the knock at the door. Everybody knew. Nobody admitted to knowing. If other people began to discuss it, you tuned them out, because what they were saying was both so obvious and so unthinkable.

We're using up the Earth. It's almost gone. You can't live with such fears and keep on whistling. The waiting builds up in you like a tide. You start wanting it to be done with. You find yourself saying to the sky, Just do it. Do your worst. Get it over with. She could feel the coming tremor of it running through her spine, asleep or awake.

1 comment:

d00dpwn1337 said...

Mmmm... corporate food.