Tuesday, September 1, 2009

High Water Mark?

Book Cover Smack Down From The Future!

Which do you like better? The biblical Brit cover or the US cover?

Flower, a new Margaret Atwood novel will be available in independent bookstores in about 2 weeks. In fact it goes on sale a couple of days after the new Dan Brown novel, "The Lost Symbol". Margaret might be one of the first of this falls Big League Authors to go on sale after the saviour of Random House's bottom line. Will Margaret be the test case for whether or not the destined to be mega-seller Dan kills the fall list?

I don't buy into the theory that Dan's popularity will hurt every other Big Name Author (and there are so many of them) with books releasing this autumn. How much cross over is there between Dan's readers and other readers? I was working in an independent bookstore when "The Da Vinci Code" first came out. It truly was a sales phenomenon. But. A sizable chunk of it's readership in our store were people who didn't read books. Nonreaders who were drawn to the book by it's subject matter or the amount of publicity it was receiving. I would love to think that those nonreaders had been transformed into readers by Da Vinci and no doubt a couple of them have, but the bulk of them? Come on, can't we all answer that? If every nonreader who loved Da Vinci was still out there plunking down their hard earned for books Publishers would be the happiest manufacturer's on the planet and that is not the case.

Then there is the never to be underestimated Snob Factor. There is a whole demographic out there of people determined to ignore "The Lost Symbol". These book buyers will be purchasing all the other more literary works that will be available. New books by A.S. Byatt, Hilary Mantel,
E.L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, Orhan Pamuk,etc.

So, what about the Flood? This is one of Atwood's science fiction novels and there we have to stop for a minute. Quite disingenuously Margaret Atwood disavows that any of her work is sci fic. She claims that because what she's written is possible today it cannot be classified as science fiction. Please. You show me what evil conglomerate has been able to create partly rational pigs and I'll side with Ms Atwood. In the meantime let us all accept that "The Year of the Flood" is a sci fic novel. OK? OK.

The Flood is a of continuation of "Oryx and Crake". There are a few of the same characters and God's Gardeners and the Corporations are there as well. We learn through flashbacks and the histories of the two main characters, Toby and Ren, that the Flood was a dry one. Something made people cough and then they died and now it's Year 25 of the The Flood. The lack of information about what happened creates a distance between the reader and the novel that I don't think the novel ever recovers from. You're here today in a post apocalyptic world and no one can tell you how it happened or they just don't want to talk about it.

There are powerful moments in the Flood. These characters have endured horrific experiences and you can be outraged and sympathetic towards them, but there is no engagement with them. The book is a long litany of ugly event after event with a mysterious ending. Year 25 is a horrible time to be alive. Men are awful (and one dimensional), a few women are the only hope but have no authority, government is gone but Corporations thrive---are you feeling the 70's vibe? There is nothing new here. At any moment I expected one of the God's Gardeners to scream, "Soylent Green is people!".

Margaret Atwood is a much, much better, inventive and smarter writer of contemporary novels, historical novels and science fiction than this book would lead you to believe. I will patiently await her next book and forget all about "The Year of the Flood".


The covers? I don't think that either one is doing Atwood any favors. The U.S. version with that giant poppy leads you to believe that what you have here is a WWI novel. The British edition while looking all the world like a cover from 1973, at least ties in this Flood with the other one that re-made the world, Noah's. Still not so great.

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