The Year of the Flood

by Margaret Atwood

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1592

In Oryx and Crake (2003), Margaret Atwood told the story of how Crake created a disease to wipe humans from the earth to make room for a new race of genetic hybrids called “Crakers.” Atwood continues the story in Year of the Flood (2009), which is perhaps better understood as a companion than a sequel to Oryx and Crake. Year of the Flood is told from the perspectives of Ren and Toby, who recount the story of their lives and how they survived the Crake’s apocalyptic pandemic, which they call the “waterless flood.” When Year of the Flood opens, Toby and Ren have both survived Crake’s flood, and it is the twenty-fifth year since the cult God’s Gardeners was formed.

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Toby has found shelter in an AnooYoo day spa. She is quite resourceful and has managed to cultivate a garden and hoard supplies. However, her survival depends on her ability to continue feeding herself. Toby’s garden is under attack from pigoons, genetically modified pigs that are very intelligent. Toby must also concentrate to minimize the effects of cabin fever, especially after she sees the hybrid Crakers from Oryx and Crake. Although readers of the companion novel know these beings are a reality, Toby determines that she is hallucinating.

Meanwhile, Ren is trapped in the Sticky Zone, a sealed-off control room at the upscale strip club Skins and Tails. Ren spends the days eating food that is refrigerated, thanks to the club’s solar energy panels. Although she is passing the time exercising and listening to natural sounds outside, she will not be able to escape until someone arrives to enter the password on the door. Considering that all but a few human beings have died from the waterless flood, her salvation seems unlikely. However, she hopes that her childhood friend Amanda Payne has survived.

Toby has not had an easy life. Her father was unable to pay for her mother’s medication and hospital care, and he kills himself after his wife’s death while Toby is at home. Toby is afraid of the corporate police, CorpSeCorps, and buries her father and his rifle in the backyard and goes underground. Unfortunately, there are few places to work without proper identification. Toby soon finds herself selling her hair and her eggs (a process that leaves her barren) before ending up in Secret Burgers, a mob-run chain of restaurants selling burgers that contain secret animal protein—the secret animal ranging from rats to cats to humans. At Secret Burger, Toby is sexually abused by her boss, Blanco, and it is only when a group of God’s Gardeners come to the restaurant that she is able to escape him.

Toby joins God’s Gardeners. Although she is at first put off by their creed, she makes a home for herself. The Gardeners seem to have strange beliefs, and their religion strives to unite ecological and scientific knowledge with the teachings of the Bible. In fact, their leader, Adam One, was once a scientist who studied epidemics. He and his followers predict that a “waterless flood” will drown the human population, so they prepare “Ararats” that contain food and supplies for after the flood hits. Over time, Toby discovers that the Gardeners have a great deal of knowledge about how to survive.

Two years after Toby’s arrival, Ren comes to the Gardeners because her mother leaves a corporate compound. Ren’s mother begins dating Zeb, one of the Adams on the Gardener’s council of Adams and Eves. Although his official designation is “Adam Seven,” the kids call Zeb “Mad Adam.” Although Toby does not subscribe to every aspect of the Gardener’s creed, she comes to understand its benefits in a way Ren does not. Ren finds life with the Gardeners dull, and she envies children who are living in poverty for their shiny, stolen clothing.

Ren befriends one of these children, Amanda, and ends up taking her back to the Gardeners. Amanda is a refugee from Texas, which was devastated by drought and hurricanes. During her exile she has learned how to defend herself. Amanda has also learned how to appear meek, and she becomes popular with the Gardeners, though Zeb knows that Amanda is a “sly operator.” Amanda and Ren begin to gossip and pick on another girl, Bernice. Although their interactions could be viewed as predictable behavior for adolescent girls, their mischief unearths some of the tensions within God’s Gardeners. Adam Thirteen is arrested for selling drugs. Meanwhile, Toby becomes an Eve. Ren and her mother, Lucerne, leave after the latter has a fight with her lover.

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They return to the HelthWyzer Compound, a corporate stronghold isolated from the impoverished “pleeblands.” There, Ren meets Jimmy (the protagonist of Oryx and Crake) and falls in love with him, but their relationship ends badly. Ren graduates from high school and goes to university. However, Lucerne informs her that she will not be able to continue at university after a rival company abducts her father. Meanwhile, Lucerne remarries.

Blanco, who raped Toby at Secret Burgers and still intends to exact his revenge for her escape, has survived several sessions of Painball, a blood sport that has taken the place of prison sentences. Zeb and Amanda visit his Secret Burgers restaurant, and a fight ensues. Blanco and his friends attack the Gardeners, who successfully defend themselves. However, Toby is sent away, given a new identity, and set up as a manager at an AnooYoo spa. It turns out that the Gardeners have secret connections in many corporations. When Toby discovers that Ren is about to leave university, she offers Ren a job at the spa. However, Ren finds that she cannot stand working in the spa, particularly after her mother Lucerne shows up for treatment. She decides to fall back on her second option: dancing and pleasuring men at Skins and Tails. However, Toby continues at her spa, and she builds an Ararat in preparation for the waterless flood.

Zeb eventually visits Toby and informs her there has been a schism in the ranks of the Gardeners. Zeb has formed a new group called “MaddAddam.” In Zeb’s view:

Peace goes only so far....There’s at least a hundred new extinct species since this time last month.

Zeb’s solution is to attack the infrastructure that allows restaurants like Rarities, which serves endangered species, to operate. In contrast, Adam One’s view is that

our role in respect to the Creatures is to bear witness...and to guard the memories and genomes of the departed. You can’t fight blood with blood.

Many senior Gardeners, especially the scientists, join Zeb’s new group. One of them is Crake, who applauds MaddAdam’s actions, particularly the way they have created and released microbes that eat asphalt.

However, Zeb’s quest is taken to a new extreme when Crake releases his pandemic plague. At one point, Toby reflects that it was

not an ordinary pandemic: it wouldn’t be contained after a few hundred thousand deaths.

However, the Gardeners survive, as do Toby and Ren. Ren is rewarded for her patience when Amanda arrives after having survived the plague—and the initial survivors of it. They are soon joined by three of their childhood friends from the Gardeners who joined MaddAddam, but they know three Painballers are following them. The group tries to join Toby, but they are attacked just outside the spa. Toby manages to shoot one of the Painballers, but the other two get away and take Amanda with them.

Toby and Amanda set out in pursuit of Amanda. Along they way, they discover the man Toby shot—it is Blanco. He is still alive and demands water, but the wound is fatal. Toby gives him a soda laced with poisonous mushrooms. Before they catch up to the other Painballers, they discover the remnants of MaddAddam. The scientists explain that they survived because Crake betrayed them to the CorpSeCorps, who turned the scientists over to Crake, who in turn kept them isolated when the plague was released. Although MaddAddam is prepared to write off Amanda as dead, Ren and Toby once again pursue her. Along the way, they come across the Crakers.

When Toby and Ren find the Painballers and Amanda, they are unsure what to do. Toby has a rifle but they have a “spraygun,” which means that although Toby might be able to kill one of the captors, she will likely die before she can kill the other. While they considering their options, a third party enters. It is Jimmy, who had come across three people at the very end of Oryx and Crake. Together they disarm and tie up the Painballers. Ren and Jimmy are reunited, but Jimmy is suffering from a fever from a festering foot injury.

Although Ren is worried about the Painballers and Jimmy’s illness, Toby admonishes everyone to rest. She makes a soup as she considers her options. Before they are able to eat, they hear music coming their way. As Oryx and Crake did, Year of the Flood ends with the arrival of another party. This one is approaching the beach with torches. Their identity is not revealed when the novel ends.

In her Afterword, Atwood explains that Year of the Flood is

fiction, but the general tendencies and many of the details in it are alarmingly close to fact.

God’s Gardeners are not based on a specific religion, though “some of their theology and practices are not without precedent.”

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