The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

atwoodShadow Giller international judge Trevor Berrett has posted his review of The Year of the Flood. Here is his opening paragraph, which fairly summarizes his conclusions:

Here is my first review as a member of this year’s Giller Prize Shadow Jury: The Year of the Flood (2009) (long listed for 2009 Giller Prize). I’m excited to discuss this book! However, because I don’t want that sentiment to mislead any Atwood lovers into reading a highly irreverent review you’d rather avoid, I must forego witholding my opinion of this book and forewarn you: my basic response to The Year of the Flood was (1) giddiness because the first half, to me, was ”So Bad It’s Great!”; (2) indifference as the book became nothing more than a faux-literary thriller, with all of the conventions and lack of depth so that it read more like Stephen King than Margaret Atwood; and (3) indignation at the author’s pretensions, particularly in the self-promoting build-up to this novel’s release and as showcased on the “Acknowledgements” page. In brief, this is not a glowing review. In fact this might be my most negative review yet, and I usually avoid such negativity. However, it’s worth discussing this book, negativity and all (well, negativity is about all that’s here), and not just because of the Shadow Jury. There are a lot of books out there that don’t pretend to be literature; they have their place and meet their expectations. Then there is an ugly class of books that pretend to be more than they are. I don’t like it when an author who knows better presents that faux literature as something profound. And it’s almost offensive when that author’s methods for promoting that faux literature are beyond pretentious.

While Trevor obviously did not like the book, his review goes to some lengths to explain why — and he does that very well. You can see the entire review at his blog here . It is definitely worth the visit. Thanks, Trevor, for adding to the 2009 Shadow Giller archive.

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14 Responses to “The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood”

  1. Colette Jones Says:

    Relieved?

  2. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Yes. I’ll probably still give it a go if it makes the short list.

  3. Sheila o'Brien Says:

    Trevor:

    Good on you for your “empress has no clothes” review. Atwood herself stokes the flames of her iconic status, and her grandiosoty multiplies almost daily.
    Alice Munro writes wonderful books for the sake of her art.
    Atwood writes books for the promotion of her self.

    Excellent review, Trevor.

  4. Trevor Says:

    Thanks Sheila. My intent going in was definitely to give the book a fair chance, since I have liked Atwood in the past. Alas, it was not to be. So far my review has not attracted any commenters who disagree with me and defend the book. I think a lot of people are a bit put-off by Atwood these days.

  5. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Certainly in the SF world, there’s been a lot of antipathy to Atwood for a while now. She’s made a few fairly derogatory remarks, which sit oddly with her chosen subject matters. There’s a perception of snobbery and arrogance, in my view a pretty accurate perception.

    Jeanette Winterson’s been doing the same thing recently oddly enough, writing a novel in which interplanetary colonists settle an alien world with the help of robots, but then claiming it’s not an sf novel which just strikes me as bizarre (it’s not a good sf novel, I’d certainly give her that). It’s a particular pet hate of mine. When John Banville writes crime, he doesn’t pretend not to be (he does use an assumed name, but everyone knows it’s him) – there’s no pretense to be doing other than he is.

  6. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I agree about the pretentiousness of pretending you aren’t doing what your are. I’ll offer some more extended thoughts regarding your longer comment on Trevor’s blog.

  7. Isabel Says:

    I like Atwood’s sci fi better than her other works.

    But it is SCI FI (or as the cable tv station now calls itself – SY FY)

    I will borrow this book from the library, so if it’s bad, I won’t feel badly about spending money.

    Thanks to Trevor for reviewing this book

  8. thejamminjabber Says:

    Wow. Eloquently put, sir, but I completely disagree.

    http://thejamminjabber.com/2009/10/06/margaret-atwood-is-my-favorite-canadian-lady-author/

  9. KevinfromCanada Says:

    jamminjabber: The Shadow jury would love to read your review, but neither of these links is working for me. You might try again.

  10. KevinfromCanada Says:

    jamminjabber: I think The Year of the Flood appeals to people who like dystopian novels but not to anyone else (emphasizing again that I have not read it). Since Atwood was a former winner of the Booker, it was automatically eligible for that Prize and did not even make the 12-book longlist — many bloggers think it was the “stinker” from a previous winner to which one judge made reference. Even more dramatically, it was not on the shortlist for Canada’s Giller Prize announced today — given Atwood’s near-iconic status in Canada, that was a shocker. While I very much liked Atwood’s early work, I’ll admit that her move into what she calls “speculative” fiction and the self-promotion that has accompanied it mean that she and I have definitely parted ways. I had promised to read this book if it made the shortlist — I’ll admit that I am now happy that I do not have to deliver on that promise. I can understand why some people do like the book but must say that it does not have any appeal to me (or Prize juries it would seem).

  11. Brian D Says:

    You are too kind towards Margaret Atwood. With the exception of The Handmaiden’s Tale, Atwoods’ books are not very good. In fact, most of them are unreadable!The Year of the Flood, at least in the 1st 100 pages—-I could not go any further—reads like it was written by an avergae 4th-grader. Mostly there is the mention of non-characters with names like Mugli the Muscle and Stewart the Screw. Burt the Knob and Drywitch Toby, who eat gawdawfully named Secretburgers etc etc etc.There is no plot yet, there is no understanding of what has happened and why, there is no developing character to see and feel and think with, only embarassing STUFF!. Why is this woman so revered?

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