This companion novel to Oryx and Crake takes the reader into the pleeblands, exploring the effect that Crake’s super virus had on the ordinary people. Toby and Ren both spent a time as God’s Gardeners, a religion devoted to worshipping God through plants and science, but later leave the group through events out of their control. Toby, an older woman, is working at a spa when the catastrophe happens, and manages to stay alive through eating the edible treatments. Ren is a young woman working as a trapeze dancer in a sex club, thankfully locked into a controlled room and saved from the virus. As these women attempt to survive, they wonder if their friends have survived, and reflect on the paths their lives took before they ended up here.
Whereas it was difficult to relate to any of the characters in Oryx and Crake, it’s amazingly easy here, and I feel comfortable saying that Ren and Toby put a human face on this dystopian world. They are the marginalized members of society, but they are still real women forced to confront women’s issues. Toby is driven to the Gardeners after her boss basically rapes her and then decides that she is his, probably intending to kill her. When Ren joins the Gardeners, she is just a young girl at the mercy of her mother’s mercurial temperament, and later suffers from unrequited love with a man who really does not deserve her. In a totally alien, if well-described, world, Ren and Toby are easy to relate to and bring the suffering home in a way that Oryx and Crake fails to do. Ren was actually my favorite, if only because we watch her grow up. Even though she eventually ends up in one of the elite high schools, she’s still dealing with issues every teenager understands:
I saw the temptation. I saw it clearly. I would come up with more bizarre details about my cultish life, and then I would pretend that I thought all these things were as warped as the HelthWyzer kids did. That would be popular. But also I saw myself the way the Adams and Eves would see me: with sadness, with disappointment. Adam One, and Toby, and Rebecca. And Pilar, even though she was dead. And even Zeb.
How easy it is, treachery. You just slide into it. But I knew that already, because of Bernice.
– p. 195
This is truly a wonderful novel. I felt the dystopian world was a bit less clear here, perhaps more ridiculous without the inside view, but because I’d read Oryx and Crake, I didn’t have many questions. Rather, the novels worked in tandem, and I really think it helped to read one right after the other. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it provides a complete and intriguing picture. Some of the same characters appear, and actually had bigger parts than I’d expected, plus some bigger issues are clarified. If I had to choose, though, I’d choose this one. I’m all about great characters, and Ren and Toby win the day for me. I must admit, however, that I generally skipped over the God’s Gardener homilies and songs, but I didn’t find it deterred from the plot.
I loved The Year of the Flood* and I highly recommend it.
*I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book from the publisher for review.