Friday, 20 May 2011

The Year of the Flood

Margaret Atwood

I like reading books in series, but they tend to be the exceptions among my library. When it happens, I am usually acutely aware of the fact that the book I am reading is one of a series; and it will be a series I follow, buy, read, sequentially.

Nothing about Atwood's The Year of the Flood screamed series at me, so none of the above was going on. If somebody had suggested to me that the book was in some way a follow on, I would have laughed, a little cruelly, perhaps, in their face. Such was my confidence.

So, obviously, it is a follow on, after all. Amazon reviewers (where were you before I read this?) make it very clear that this novel contains spoilers for Oryx and Crake -- the next of Atwood's novels, coincidentally, on my random invisible read-next list.

It doesn't really matter. The books are, as far as I can tell, free-standing. Certainly, the narratives are separate, until near the end, and any character overlap didn't stop me enjoying The Year of the Flood independently. And there's a lot to enjoy, all round: Atwood's fully realised, marvellously embellished future world; her serious playfulness; the inherent page-momentum; the messiness.

So it doesn't really matter. Only, of course, it slightly does. Because as I read, I became suspicious. Engaged as I was with the novel, a layer of my attention was taken by the Mystery of the Possible Prequel. And my attention couldn't afford the loss; the book already contains one attention-splicer -- the authorially indulgent sermons and songs, which manage to punctuate (but little else) the more interesting bits.

I accuse myself of cowardice. I lost a good few days to this novel, but it didn't quite reach the heights/hit the mark/pick the metaphor that I was hoping for. And here I am, trying to blame its failure on my own reading-order cock up. I don't think this stands up in Book Court.

How much does readerly context affect a novel's percieved quality? I mean, do I like books more when I'm on holiday? In the bath? In years Norwich City get promoted to the flipping Premier League?

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