Style Matters

After reading “The Parable of the Sower”, a question was raised about style. It was asked whether or not you needed the history of the main character to appreciate the present? Buttler did not give us any real back story on Lauren the main character, and I got along just fine without it; now to apply the same question to “The Year of the Flood” by Atwood. The style that her book is written in is completely different than the style that Buttler chose. Atwood has a confusing style at first, and I personally found it bothersome. The book starts off with a poem. At the bottom of the page it says “From The God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook”. So it’s a religious song? I guess so. The first chapter has “Toby” written at the top. I assumed this was a guy (later I found out it is a girl). The line below that says “YEAR TWENTY-FIVE, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD”. Having already had a hint of religion, I believe that the year twenty-five would either refer to the amount of time that has passed since the flood, or that the year twenty-five is the year the flood takes place. Now I’m kind of rusty on my stories from the bible, but I’m pretty sure that Noah didn’t build the ark in year 25. Starting to read the first chapter of the book, it describes the main character Toby climbing in and around old buildings. It is obvious that this is in the feature, and that the ‘flood’ has already happened.

Now for the second chapter, by Ren. A new character, and she has her own chapters. So this is the style that the book is going to be written in: the two main characters will narrate their experiences and lives in their own chapters. Flipping ahead through the book, all chapters are either by Ren or by Toby, so if they ever do meet it will still be from their own perspective.

Having encountered this style before, I am not a fan of it. I guess I should be grateful that there are only two characters, and not five. As you read on, the chapters are narrated by Ren or Toby, but they jump through time. There are several words that Atwood made up, and were confusing until a jump back in time they are explained to you. There is a character that is confusing: Adam One. Now, going with religion, that is not hard to figure out. But when referring to the original Adam and Eve, they are not given a number, but Adam One does. After continuing on, you learn that they are leaders of the religious sect. This is confusing until you understand what is going on. The Adam’s and Eve’s are referred to by both their Adam/Eve and number, or by their names. Take notes if you need to (and on the funny words).

So overall, Atwood has a very complex style for writing this book. It is very thick and has a lot of meanings that are not obvious to the reader at first. But does it work? Is it too distracting? Do we need to know about all the past information or can we just roll with the present like in “The Parable of the Sower”?

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One Response to “Style Matters”

  1. I commend you for approaching these formal questions about the novel. You’re getting tangled up in the formal choices Atwood makes to articulate this story, and I want to push you even further to think about the function of form here. In other words, besides being distracting, what role do these choices perform in the novel? Some key concerns about form, most of which you already hit on, might be:

    What is the effect of jumping between two characters’ perspectives?

    Why is Toby in the third person (Toby) and Ren in the first (I)?

    Both Parable and TYOTF use scripture (Earthseed and the hymns, respectively) to frame the action of the story. What effect does this have?

    What does the fragmented chronology do to the reader? One one level, it connects characters and events much more explicitly than a chronological approach would, and on another level, it demands that we reconsider how we understand time. What else does it do, and why would the author choose to do that? What effect does it have on the reader, and how does it help tell the story?

    Great observations!

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