This novel runs 448 pages but flows along compellingly, seamlessly, a painfully believable tale of dystopia moving into calamity. The only novels of Atwood's that I had read before this were set in contemporary (70's and 80's) Canada, and tended to be very observant and psychologically astute in a way that almost made them hard to read at times because of the painful detail of the innermost parts of characters.
That observantness to the point of being hurtful is still there, but the world view sustained in the presentation of the story is so much vaster, and I don't think that is just because it has to be because a non-current world is being presented. There is more compassion in the writing, too: compassion for the characters, especially the two through whose eyes the story is focalized turn and turn about, and compassion for the world being presented there.
The characterization is impressive: concise, precise and consistent between the two focalizing viewpoints. The descriptive passages are vivid and naturally allowed to unfold. And the plot is so inexorably inveigling - which is accomplished in part by the partially-retrogressive narration so popular in fiction these days.
Th presentation of characters who eschew technology and go 'back to the land,' with their inconsistencies that are gradually revealed, was very poignant for me (on a personal note) and I enjoyed all the humorous touches with which she treated them, (with an uproarious sideswipe of humor at religion serving as a structural theme also) as well as the eugenicists on the other end of the spectrum.
Although a lot of really harrowing material is covered, as is to be expected in an apocalyptic novel, she manages to provide it with a somewhat happy ending.
I really enjoyed it as a reader as well as a writer (I don't always get both) - and now I need to go read 'Oryx and Crake,' several of whose characters are apparently featured in 'The Year of the Flood.'