I guess all of you follow what’s been going on in the world right now. We’re facing a crisis caused by a virus that has rushed over the world in an unprecedented speed. Most of public life has come to a halt, schools and unis are closed, hospitals are overloaded, the economy is crashing.

As bad as this pandemic is right now, however, I also think that it offers opportunities. By this I mean not only the opportunity to find flaws in economic and political systems, but also for us to rethink our own values and behaviours. Especially with climate change in mind, it’s likely that what we’re experiencing right now might be normality in the future. Do we really want this to happen?

This is also a question Margaret Atwood asks in The Year of the Flood. The novel is the second part of the MaddAddam trilogy, though it isn’t so much a sequel to the first part than a “simultanial” (as Atwood calls it) since the action in both novels takes place pretty much at the same time.

In her story, Atwood has taken our mad world and turned it into something even madder. In the pre-apocalyptic world she envisions, Corporations have taken over control, society is divided into an elite class living inside gated communities called “Compounds” and a poor mass living in “pleeblands,” and genetic engineering has created weird animal-hybrids like “rakunks” (cross of a raccoon and a skunk) or “liobams” (lion and lamb).

What makes Atwood’s vision so scary is that this strange world is very much grounded in our reality. Atwood herself is always keen to insist that she writes “speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction” as everything she imagines could really happen or is already happening. And in fact, the novel’s corporation landscape seems all too familiar: From “SecretBurgers,” the burger restaurant that turns everything into a burger (rumor has it they also use human meat), over “Happicuppa”, the coffee chain that sells genetically-modified coffee beans, to the “AnooYoo Spa” (pronounced “A new you”), the spa that sells women the illusion of eternal youth—all of these are somewhat recognizable.

At every point, Atwood insists that this society isn’t sustainable. Instead, it is rushing into the future with its eyes closed. We learn that weather extremes are getting worse (even Texas has become uninhabitable after periods of hurricanes and droughts), animals are going extinct, epidemics break out regularlyand still nothing changes. So when the apocalypse wipes out most of humanity, it seems like nothing else could’ve stopped this world from destroying the planet even further.

Of course, what is currently going on is still far from apocalypse. But it’s still a crisis that should make us think about the future. When after the apocalypse Toby and Ren, the novel’s surviving protagonists, look back at their earlier lives, they regret not having at least attempted to change the outcome when it was yet possible.

But for us, things might be different. Every crisis shows us our own failures and limits, but it’s also a chance for us to learn from mistakes and act before it’s too late. Or do we want to make Atwood’s vision become reality?

What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below!


2 thoughts on “What we can learn from Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood

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