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The Year of the Flood is an excellent novel penned by noteworthy author, Margaret Atwood, that is set in the not-so-distant future of our own Earth. In this glimpse of what may be to come, Atwood paints the picture of a world in which corporations and greed have taken over and, correspondingly, in which a good deal of humanity's soul has been degraded and lost in the process. Indeed, the society put forth in the book has sunken to such depths that extreme corruption and degradation--governmental, societal and even sexual--have become the norm, and superficiality has taken the place of meaningful existence. In an attempt to counter-balance this loss of decency, a cult-like religion--the "Gardeners"--has sprung up. With their roof-top gardens and purposefully-drab clothing, this group follows a form of "return-to-nature" philosophy that idolizes wildlife and nature through a unique hybrid of both scientific principle (i.e. evolution) and more typical religious underpinnings. Interestingly, this group has made saints out of many recognizable figures from the history of the "real" world, and there are also clear references in the book to contemporary and historical events.
Not all of the members of the "Gardeners"--who are led by an idealist named Adam One--are quite as dogmatic and serious about the group's philosophy as they might be, however, as the group has quite a few outcasts amongst its flock who really have nowhere else to go. Indeed, the story is actually told through the eyes of two such former members, Toby and Ren. These two characters start off the novel trapped in their places of employment--a spa in the case of the former and a gentlemen's club / brothel in that of the latter--after the great "waterless flood" (man-made disease) that has spread across the Earth. Through these two characters' flashbacks and memories, the back-story of the events is effectively conveyed and then goes on to form the basis of the latter portion of the book, which is enacted in the characters' present timeframe.
Not to spoil the ending, but it is safe to simply say that things end on a relatively high note and that the various plot points are fairly well tied up. Perhaps a "more fulfilling" manner in which to close out the book could have been found, but the one that is presented is more than adequate enough.
Additionally, the writing and structure themselves work well, as the book keeps the reader's interest and really doesn't sag in any meaningful way. There is also a bit of a taste of the bizarre presented in this text, with the proceedings including both elements of cult-like religious belief and also fairly graphic, gritty, and emotionally-detached sexual content. Compounding this sense of strangeness is the music that is played during the Adam One chapters of the audiobook. These pieces are meant to represent the group's actual religious songs and occur approximately once per disc for a few minutes apiece. In all honesty, they often seem a bit out of place--not so much in terms of their lyrics, but in terms of their musical flavor--and, as such, they serve as a bit of a distraction to the tenor otherwise being developed and conveyed by the work.
The music aside, the audiobook's technical aspects work to good effect. The readers, which are generally female--other than for the male voice of the Adam One chapters--are expressive and good at differentiating between the various characters. Moreover, the pace of the reading is spot-on, and everything comes out clearly and crisply. These items, of course, are essential for an audiobook.
Overall, The Year of the Flood--in audiobook form--is an exceptional literary work by Margaret Atwood that is effective at creating and bringing to life an outlandish world of greed and corruption. The writing and structure of the text are exquisitely done, and the technical aspects of the audiobook--save the actual music itself--are all better than fine. Clocking in at about 14 hours and spanning 11 discs of unabridged material, this endeavor is definitely worth a listen.
© 2010 Russ Seidel
Russ Seidel, Ph.D., Dept of Chemistry and Physics, Dowling College.