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25th September
2009
written by Steph
My BookPage review for October

My BookPage review for October

For the October issue of BookPage, I reviewed fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood's latest novel, The Year of the Flood.  The review is already up online, so I figured I'd give all of our S&TI! readers a sneak peak; you can read it here. My past with Atwood is somewhat tortuous and fraught - I had a highschool English teacher who thought la Atwood walked on water, but my 16-year old mind stubbornly revolted.  True story: my university admissions essay was about how I thought Jane Austen was more of a feminist than Margaret Atwood. Since The Year of the Flood takes place in the same timeline and world as Oryx & Crake, I know the two will be compared to no end.  While I didn't think The Year of the Flood was a novel without flaws, I do think I liked it more than O&C.  I found Toby & Ren to be more compelling narrators than Snowman, and whether I always agree with her take or not, I think Atwood shines brightest when she focuses on women.  Write what you know, I suppose.  She weaves an interesting story in which it's easy to get invested, one that I feel was richer and more fleshed out, and I think a lot of people will feel moved by what she has written here.  It isn't my favorite Atwood (I think the childhood years of Cat's Eye get that honor), but it is an absorbing tale.  Sometimes I felt the book got too preachy for its own good, but I won't deny that it takes less than six degrees of separation to trace her world back to the one we're currently living in; what she's saying needs to be heard, so I guess mission accomplished on that front. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

16 Comments

  1. I’m not a big fan of Atwood at the moment. I have only read The Blind Assassin – I thought it was OK, but nothing special. I have heard that some of her other books are very different, so will give a few of her other books a try, but will avoid this one for a while – especially since you only gave it 3.5/5.

  2. 09/25/2009

    I am actually looking forward to this and I love your honest review of the book. I have not read much Atwood (Alias Grace – my favorite!!! and The Handmaid’s Tale – awesome book!!), but from the little that I have read of her work I do find that she is a brilliant writer. I guess it just really amazed me how much she put into Alias Grace and perhaps that one book biases me towards her work. I suppose I will have to read a few more to have a better viewpoint from which to grasp her work. Thanks for the review!!

  3. 09/25/2009

    Steph, great review as usual. Now I have a clearer vision of what this book really is about.

    I think I’ll pass on this one for now, as I’m more interested in reading Alias Grace and Lady Oracle (after Blind Assassin). Have you read The Robber Bride? I used to have a copy but never read it. I think I was bored the first few pages. But I was very young then and the style of Cat’s Eye appealed to me better. But now I hear Robber Bride is as good as Blind Assassin. What do you think?

  4. Amy
    09/25/2009

    I haven’t read much Atwood because I thought what I read was okay but nothing special. The New York Times Review of Books also had a review of The Year of the Flood on Sunday. I like your review. Not so sure I’ll bother with this book

  5. 09/25/2009

    @ Jackie: I haven’t read The Blind Assassin, so I can’t comment on how representative it is of Atwood’s other fiction. I think she’s an author that people either REALLY love, or feel ambivalent about; I’m certainly an example of the latter. At times I think she has an unerring eye for the truth, and at other times I find her sententious and over-hyped. I personally tend to think her ideas are more interesting (though not without controversy) than her writing itself, but others obviously feel differently.
     
    @ Nadia: I haven’t read Alias Grace, though I’ve heard good things about it. I wonder to what extent our impressions of authors are overly biased/colored by our first exposure to them? My first Atwood was Lady Oracle and I thought it was preposterous. Ever since that, while all other Atwoods I’ve read have been tons better, I’ve just never been able to fully embrace her. I think she is an intellectual writer, but I find her lacking in emotion.
     
    @ claire: I’ve never read either The Blind Assassin or The Robber Bride, so I’m afraid I’m no help to you on this issue! I did read and HATE Lady Oracle as a teen, however, so I would probably suggest you read Alias Grace instead! 😉 Of the Atwoods I’ve read, I’d probably put them in the following order: 1) Handmaid’s Tale; 2) Cat’s Eye; 3) The Year of the Flood; 4) Oryx & Crake; 5) Lady Oracle (really should be in position 75 or something abysmally low like that! 😉 ). I think of future Atwoods I’d like to read, it would probably be Alias Grace or The Robber Bride (probably that order). I’ve personally heard that Blind Assassin is not as good as some of Atwood’s earlier works, so I think that since you read and enjoyed it, either AG or RB would be successful for you!
     
    @ Amy: Yes, I read the NYTRB review, which was, of course, effusive in its praise. Well, I’m referring to the one written by Jeanette Winterson, which I’m not sure is the same, but let’s assume it is. I was amused that she slips in the last paragraph or so that the book is not without its flaws, but then says that they’re not worth discussing because what’s good is done so very well. I feel differently, because I thought that while what was done well was strong, the flaws were not inconsequential. It’s not a bad book, but I wouldn’t say this is Atwood’s best, nor would I say it’s the best book to be published this year.

  6. 09/25/2009

    I was planning on reading this this week, but I’m now more enthused about finishing the Booker shortlist, so I’m putting it on hold for a couple more weeks. I’m glad to hear that your liked it.

    Regarding Claire’s question, The Robber Bride is one of my favorite Atwoods–I’d have a hard time choosing between it and the Handmaid’s Tale, Blind Assassin, and Cat’s Eye. Alias Grace, on the other hand, is my least favorite, but I’m an odd duck for that–might have been my mood at the time. I’d put Oryx and Crake and Lady Oracle somewhere in between, liked them but didn’t love them, although Oryx and Crake improved considerably on second read.

  7. 09/25/2009

    I picked up Oryx and Crake about 2 months ago when I was in Seattle. I’m determined to read that but based on your review I’m not sure I will rush to read this latest one.

  8. 09/26/2009

    @ Teresa: For me this was pretty much “typical Atwood”, which means that it had its strengths but it also had its flaws. I thought that when she focused on evolving her story rather than vituperating all the world it was really enthralling.
    Also, thanks for your thoughts on some of the Atwood back catalog. She really isn’t an author I feel that I have to go out and read everything she’s ever written, but I’m sure I will look at some of her other titles between now and whenever it is I stop reading! 😉
     
    @ Kathleen: I think O&C is a good litmus test for how you’ll respond to this one since they deal with similar issues. I’m also not sure that I would want to read them both back to back, so it might be good to have a breather in between.

  9. 09/26/2009

    Since I’m one of the (apparently) few people who actually LIKED O&C on first read, I’m now pretty excited to read this one. I agree with Teresa above – Alias Grace is probably my least favorite Atwood, with The Handmaid’s Tale and Blind Assassin being at the top. However, since I’ve now listed the only four of her books that I’ve actually read, I’m probably not the most accurate source. =)

  10. 09/26/2009

    @ Elizabeth: Thanks for commenting! I think that given your general appreciation for Atwood in general and Oryx & Crake in particular, I think you will probably enjoy this one a good deal. Interesting that two of you have now mentioned being less than impressed with Alias Grace – I don’t know that I’d heard much about it, but I had thought it was generally highly regarded (whereas Blind Assassin was more iffy); I may have to reconsider my next Atwood read!

  11. 09/28/2009

    I am not a huge Atwood fan, but for some reason I have been getting really excited over this book. I think it’s the plague elements ( I’m a sucker for books about any type of plague). I really liked your review, it gets right to the meat of the plot and makes me even more intrigued than I already had been.

  12. 10/09/2009

    Hey — Cat’s Eye is my favorite Atwood as well. And Robber Bride is my second favorite, so since we apparently have the same taste in Atwood, give it a try!

  13. 10/10/2009

    @ Jenny: Duly noted – I saw a copy of Robber’s Bride on my last visit to McKay’s and was considering buying it, but then I was all, “Why do I feel the need to read more Atwood when I generally get so mad with her?” and put it back. Perhaps I’ll borrow this one from the library the next time I feel the impulse to read more Atwood (I think I will stick to keeping my intake to just one book per year!).

  14. […] winner is Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life.  Nadia selected Margaret Atwood’s newest novel, The Year of the Flood, so a copy will be making its way to her very shortly.  Congratulations, Nadia!  We hope you […]

  15. […] The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood (read it!  For my thoughts, see here.) […]

  16. […] STI: “At times this skewering can feel heavy-handed, as if the storytelling has taken a backseat to environmental and corporate whistle-blowing, but even so, no one can deny that Atwood’s message remains chilling, timely and necessary.” […]

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