So, I've been to the event and have much to tell you about that, but what did I make of the book? Well this post is going to be divided up into three parts because otherwise it will be three miles long.
If you've read the entire Margaret Atwood oeuvre from The Edible Woman onwards then it's always just a joy to have another one to read... even if it turns out to be an anthology of Margaret's shopping lists... which it didn't.
All this Atwooditis could easily obscure the book itself and though The Year of the Flood is not my absolute favourite of the fourteen that I've read it quickly became a page-turner.
I turned to Coral Howells's excellent book Margaret Atwood to refresh my thinking on this aspect of Margaret Atwood's writing; the speculative fiction which reflects those political, social and environmental concerns which perhaps don't prey as heavily on the mind as they might and which Margaret Atwood has for some years now made it her writerly business to bring to centre stage.
As she made very clear, and in the nicest possible way at the Ely event, we'll all be moaning plenty when we don't have air to breathe.
It's a worry.
The dystopian novels send out those warning signals, the
'definitive moments after which things will never be the same again'
and with it comes the exploration of possible consequences, explored so astutely in The Handmaid's Tale.
That was the one that shocked me to the core, there are very few books I've read three times but that one I have, the last occasion happened to be for a book group that met on 9/13 just two days after that fateful day and discussions that evening remain etched in my memory.
Oryx and Crake likewise adds to that bleakness but somehow The Year of the Flood deals with all this slightly differently because I actually smiled...dare I confess that whilst I saw the serious side to the book, and plenty of it is quite grotesque, I also laughed...a great deal.
Now I'm not sure if I was supposed to because I don't recall laughing much at the other two dystopian worlds, but this one has just travelled so far out into the realms of imagination you couldn't help but marvel at the very imagination that had constructed it.
I'd love to know how it's done, do Family Atwood sit around the breakfast table throwing out possible names for things, the CorpSeCorps for the dodgy law enforcers, AnooYoo for the health spa, it's all relentlessly clever.
As always there is that sandal-shod foot planted firmly in the known world thus giving huge credibility to Margaret Atwood's constructed one as she explores the consequences of those themes previously explored, the quasi-religious cults, this time God's Gardeners challenged by the extremist sects, the violence and the sheer guts (often literally) and determination required to survive it all.
Blended into the whole are two very different women and Margaret Atwood gave an interesting response to questions posed at the end of the event about her return to women narrators...having been asked for many years why her fiction didn't feature male narrators and having explored that for the first time in Oryx and Crake, she was then repeatedly asked why she'd chosen a male narrator for that book.
It seems even famous writers can't win sometimes.
Toby and Ren, two very different women and both bringing what they have to offer to this new world of constant menace and danger.
Toby, isolated, emotionally detached, self-reliant, self-contained, seemingly unchanged by threat or circumstance, versatile, resourceful both capable and adaptable...the archetypal Darwinian 'survival of the fittest'.
Ren, the little Jenny Wren-like girl, a delicate, fragile moth-like creature, emotional, sensitive, biddable but also remarkably resilient.
As I read I couldn't help reflecting on what exactly was going on here, was the book carrying me along on that tide of adulation...the 'I'll love anything Margaret writes' wave or was I feeling just a little bit queasy about all this bizarre quasi-religious content and those moments when I felt the book strayed slightly into the realms of farce.
In the end I came to the self-comforting conclusion that Margaret Atwood had changed tack slightly, chosen a different way to convey her message, this possibly one of the most reader-friendly of her books. I suspect it will have wide appeal, you won't have to be a Margaret Atwood devotee to read it, enjoy it and perhaps hear something of its environmental message....but perhaps true Atwood devotees might be a bit disappointed.
Was I a bit disappointed ?
I was a bit of a doubter that's for sure and set off for Ely feeling very nervous.
In fact, having read the book, The Year of the Flood event was now starting to worry me stupid... there are some writers I feel I can trust implicitly and Margaret Atwood is one, surely she wasn't about to let me down?
More of that tomorrow to be followed by RevCheryl's fascinating take on it all.