Book review: Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood; plus a lean mean green salad recipe

Lean mean green salad

In we go with the greens! I’ve been really missing my salads and this is a fantastic way of getting all your greens in a yummy, refreshing, crunchy summer salad:

What I did was to throw in:

  • Peas and corn kernels (defrosted from a bag of frozen veg)
  • Three stalks of celery, chopped up
  • One avocado, sliced up
  • Some leftover cherry tomatoes, halved, to add a touch of colour
  • Half a red onion, chopped up
  • A few handfuls of rocket and cos lettuce

Dressing: fallback on a new favourite; a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I would have added some white wine vinegar but unfortunately there was none in the cupboard ūüôĀ

We had it served with fish fillets coated with flour and lemon juice and grilled.

Salad and Fish

Green is good!

And talking about greens is probably a good way to segue into my review about Margaret Atwood’s latest boook, The Year of the Flood. Why? Because The Year of the Flood is a story about two young women who have survived the man-made plague known as the Waterless Flood, a plague which has killed just about everyone else in the world. Or so it seems. They’re both seemingly stuck in the places where they had been working when the Waterless Flood hit – Ren, in an upmarket sex club where she worked as a successful dancer before the Flood hit – and Toby, the manageress of the now-deserted AnooYoo Spa. But there is a connection between the two women, a past where they were both, for different reasons, members of the eco-cult known as God’s Gardeners, a cult of strict vegetarians who practiced holistic teachings and had secret ties to the Waterless Flood that neither woman guessed about until much later.

YearoftheFlood

The Year of the Flood is set in the same world and has ties to Atwood’s earlier book, Oryx and Crake. It answers a lot of questions about Oryx and Crake, tying up some loose ends, and it also gives a wider viewpoint of the pre-flood world that features in both books. There are also connections between the two female protagonists of The Year of the Flood and Jimmy and Crake, the two male protagonists of Oryx and Crake.

I have to admit, I do like The Year of the Flood better than Oryx and Crake, simply because¬† it’s a more hopeful story and, in my opinion, far more likable characters.¬†Oryx and Crake, told from the viewpoint of Jimmy, can be pretty depressing with a sense of hopelessness and inevitability infusing Jimmy’s story, along with his miserable solitude after the Waterless Flood had occurred. While bad things do happen to Ren and Toby, things much worse than anything Jimmy had to experience, they both have an inner strength and optimism that Jimmy lacks – while Jimmy is a decided lackluster character, a rather uninspiring, insipid sort of character who has pretty much let life’s events carry him along rather than doing anything to change his circumstances. The compounds Jimmy and Crake grew up in were pleasant, sanitized, secure areas; the ‘pleebland’ slums outside the compounds where Ren and Toby lived were pretty much the equivalent of ghettos, yet it seemed as if Ren and Toby got the better deal because their lives with the God’s Gardeners always seemed so much more colourful, happier and self-fulfilling.

As much as I don’t like Jimmy, I do have to admit that perhaps those qualities of his that I don’t like are possible the same qualities that are his saving grace – he is human, the everyday man, the middle class, part of the sheep-like crowd that does as he’s told, who doesn’t want to go looking for trouble, who’s part of the mainstream. If he’s unmotivated and eventually ends up in a bland, uninspiring job and a humdrum life (before meetin, well, it’s not too different from a lot of ordinary people’s lives. He is to Crake what Dr Watson is to Sherlock Holmes or what Captain Hastings is to Hercule Poirot – the traditional layman. And I’m guessing his all-too-human qualities is what makes him attractive to girls too, the fact that Jimmy’s always picking up and breaking girls’ hearts, including Ren, playing his I’m-an-emotional-wreck role to inspire the maternal instincts of his conquests. Basically, some of our most human qualities can also be some of our worst qualities. But in a reverse, Ren and Toby would also prove in¬†TYoTF¬†that some of our most human qualities can also be some of our best.

Atwood’s world-building: In both¬†TYoTF and OaC, the threat of the militant CorpSeCorps looms in the background and there is a certain menace towards most of the woman, that threat of exploitation and rape and abuse, not surprisingly especially in a post-apocalyptic world. (Side note: I was talking to a workmate the other day about the upcoming Mad Max movie and about how we both knew¬†of the first Mad Max shows but didn’t really remember what they were about. She said she had just seen the first Mad Max on TV the other day. ‘What did you think?’ I asked her. ‘It was creepy,’ she admitted. ‘The whole attitude towards women.’ ‘Kind of like how women were treated in Waterworld?’¬†I suggested. ‘Yeah, pretty much.’)

And while, yeah, a big thing about a post-apocalyptic world is the sleaze, the exploitation and gender abuse, to be honest, it’s not too much different from the way of the world as it is now, and that’s what Atwood’s books are genius at, they’re practically a mirror to our current world and an almost-prediction of the near future. Violence towards women? Just look at the news, from the high-profile cases of Australian woman Jill Meagher, who was raped and killed in Melbourne, to the gang rapes of a psychology student and Swiss tourist in India, cases which are just the tip of the iceberg in a country where rape is described as ‘a national problem’ and one of the country’s most common crimes against women, to the Steubenville rape case in the US. And let’s not forget Singapore’s recent ‘creepy sexual molester ad’ which copped a lot of international flack for implying that women are sexually assaulted because they weren’t being careful enough. As one commentator on Jezebel.com says, “Singapore finds, remarkably, that staying in one’s house unless escorted is not a practical lifestyle for an annoyingly large number of women.”¬† Why should all women be restricted just because some men can’t do the right thing? You don’t have to go to the future to see women being exploited, and you can only hope that things don’t get worse in the near future, what with conservative politicians even in the so-called forward-thinking western world looking to restrict women’s rights regarding their reproductive systems based on illogical thinking. (US Republican pollies, I’m looking at you. You too, Tony Abbott.)

Gender issues aren’t the only real-life issues reflected in TYoTF and OaC. There are issues of gene splicing and genetically modified crops – and GM crops is a big issue, not just for concerned consumers afraid of what eating GM food will do for their health but also with farmers, especially organic farmers, concerned about the inevitable widespread contamination of their crops by GM pollination. Big supermarket chains are catering to the consumers’ need for cheaper products by squeezing out the farmers – just look at the dairy farmers’ price war in Australia. Addictive additives in cheap fast food,¬† new strains of pests and bacteria impervious to the usual pesticides and chemicals, Painball criminal facilities with cameras for the voyeuristic, modified roses for the pleasure of the public (not just the glowing rosebushes in TYoTF, real-world modifications now include blue roses too), peculiar religious groups, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.

Both TYoTF and Oac are eerily prophetic, and if Oac is a gloomy warning, TYoTF¬†offers a glimmer of hope for the future. And it’s definitely a book that Atwood fans would enjoy and one I’d recommend for those who haven’t tried her literary offerings yet.

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