My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It's unfortunate that this novel feels so gimmicky, because I very much enjoyed Atwood's earlier and "similar" novel Oryx and Crake. This one feels somewhat like an attempt to expand upon the ruined and dystopian world presented in that earlier novel, and the effort was well directed, because that is a very fascinating and creative world. However, for whatever reason, we gradually lose our ability to relate to the characters as the book progresses. Perhaps this is because the details of the strange world's demise get to be too much--they get in the way of the story of the characters, and because we care less about what happens to those characters, we care less about the story at all. Or maybe it is the fact that every chapter starts with a very impersonal "bible verse" of sorts, from Adam One, offering an edict for how The Gardeners should celebrate that particular holy day. Whatever the reason, I barreled through to the end of the novel, only to wish I had stopped halfway, when I really was still enjoying it.
My favorite stories were of Ren, the pole dancer the (quite literal) club Scales and Tails, and her friend Amanda. Atwood couldn't seem to decide, however, until nearly the middle of the book whether their story was to be central to the novel. Then, when it was deemed critical, it had to compete with that of Toby, the burger-flipper-turned-beekeeper, whose story should have seemed interesting but who, as a character, was so reserved and unemotional that she actually was uninteresting.
On a side note, I also must add that I would love to see an entire novel dedicated to Painball: a punishment given for crimes in which the offenders are put into an arena armed with horrendous weapons and "sides" (black or red teams, I believe) and told to kill the people on the other team. This, I think, is prime material for another novel.
Lastly, having now read The Year of the Flood, I would love to go back and reread Oryx and Crake, specifically because of the overlap in who Jimmy/Snowman is in The Year of the Flood. Wouldn't it be wonderful of a teacher of professor somewhere used these books for to teach something about literary continuity? Or as a part of a dystopian literature course? If nothing else, we must give Atwood credit for that: she definitely planned out this novel with admirable thoroughness. Hats off for creativity and attention to detail.