It's an imagining of the future reminiscent of her classic novel The Handmaid's Tale (McClelland & Stewart). In the new novel, religious leader Adam One has long predicted a natural disaster that will render Earth unrecognizable. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have been spared: Ren, a young trapeze-dancer, locked inside a high-end sex club; and Toby, who is barricaded inside a luxurious spa. Have others survived? The Year of the Flood follows the stories of Toby and Ren.
In a telling Q & A with Margaret Atwood, CanadianLiving.com Senior Editor Jennifer Villamere uncovered the Can Lit icon's inspiration and her future plans.
JV: The Year of the Flood features a trapeze dancer, a bioartist and a host of other extraordinarily detailed and unusual characters. What inspires the idiosyncrasies of your characters?
MA: Real life! People with these jobs do exist. In some form, they have probably existed for a very long time – my "future" variations are just that – variations. ("Bioart," for instance, was probably the first art – as in cave paintings and giant earth sculptures.)
JV: With which of your characters do you most closely identify?
MA: If you are staying with a character, seeing things through that person, you have to identify. But it's not a "they-are-me" identification. For those moments, it's more like "I am them."
JV: You create such delicious tension and suspense in your novels. Where do you find tension or excitement in your own life?
MA: Every day is a challenge, especially if you're driving anywhere in a car… I still find thunderstorms pretty tense. But the main excitement comes from writing, and from stumbling across new ideas….
JV: How closely tied is The Year of the Flood to your 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake (McClelland & Stewart)?
MA: It's the same time period, and with some overlapping incidents and characters. But it looks at that world through different eyes. Instead of sad, world-weary Jimmy, we approach the landscape through two women – one older and with good survival skills, one much younger, naïve, but wiser than she at first appears – and also through the God's Gardeners, a religious group dedicated to a meld between science and nature. So – closely tied, in some ways. But a freestanding structure as well.
JV: What are you reading now?
MA: At this very moment? The page proofs for Graeme Gibson's fall book, The Bedside Book of Beasts, about predators and their prey– a companion volume to his earlier Bedside Book of Birds (Random House). There is some overlap in our subject matter, too, as you might expect -- I couldn't have written the God's Gardeners Predator Day hymn without his insights!
JV: What's your next project?
MA: Getting through the fall book tour. After that – touch wood – I'll begin a third book about the world of The Year of the Flood – to be called MaddAddam.
Jennifer Villamere is Canadian Living's senior web editor.