Sunday, October 11, 2009


I am very happy that a woman (Herta Müller) won the Nobel Prize for Literature; however, I must admit that my favorite for some years has been Margaret Atwood. I would really like to see her win this award in her lifetime. Far too many people dismiss her books as soft-sci-fi or dark "chick lit." Those people have obviously never read her work.

When I was fourteen, I read The Handmaid's Tale and I spent almost a decade avoiding her books because I imagined they would not, could not possibly live up and I did not want to deal with that disappointment. When I was in Germany, I wanted to surround myself in English in my free time. To bathe in it. I tried to read German books but I longed for English. Is that weird? So I overcame my reluctance and read almost everything Atwood ever wrote. I hate overwrought food / eating consumption metaphors, but I really did "devour" them. Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, Cat's Eye... I mean, I read them as fast as Deutsche Post could get them to me. I eventually had to sell them all back at the English bookshop in Berlin to keep my belongings light enough for the airline. The rounded characters, vaguely magical situations and deft, yet unpretentious language really struck a chord with me.

I hadn't been thinking about Atwood much lately, because all of my brain is supposed to be devoted to GRAD SCHOOL. But I was really pulling for her to win a Nobel and recently, I found myself in Borders. Being desperately poor and constantly swamped with stuff to get done, I rarely go into stores - they just make me feel bad - but I saw that she had written a new novel. One about a society in which evil corporations dominate society and own the government, poison citizens, and engineer violence.

No, wait! Actually it's fiction! A novel! About the not-too-distant future!

Although it's probably academic and professional suicide, I bought it and have been reading it. Shh. Don't tell.

Atwood's new book, The Year of the Flood is what I am recommending to you today. Speculative fiction is nearly always about the present, and while there's potential for The Year of the Flood to be heavy-handed and didactic, it's neither of those things. It's about a group of religious vegans (!) who anticipate a corporate-engineered plague.

It reads as engrossingly as any other engaging book about an unsettlingly similar setting, but what's drawing me in (I'm about halfway through) is its detailed ritual and the perfectly-imagined, yet flawed religion created in the Gardeners (who first appeared in Oryx & Crake). I am fascinated by religious culture (not so much by religion itself) and the heteroglossic narration adds dimension, criticism, and comfort to the Gardeners as the backstories are constructed: backstories upon backstories, nuanced and detailed, until the looming apocalypse seems like an after thought.

Like I said. I haven't finished reading it yet, but I recommend The Year of the Flood to you whole heartedly.


  1. This is one of the best blog post titles ever.
    I have never read any Atwood, but now that I've read your recommendation, I plan to.

  2. Atwood is one of my favorite authors too. I've read The Handmaid's Tale too many times to count and yet it's still just as tough to put down as it was the first time I read it.

    I gotta say though, and I'm definitely biased, but Herta Muller has a pretty awesome last name.


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