- Published: 16/03/1998
- 325 pages
- Format: Kindle
The Handmaid’s Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.
For book number 2 of Reading Challenge at The Fiction Cafe Book club – Read a book considered to be a classic, I’ve picked The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I will try to use books I already own and this book has been on my kindle for a while now. I wasn’t quite ready to read it until now. This challenge has definitely helped me to get out of my reading comfort zone as this wasn’t any regular ‘classic’ with happy ending I would usually pick.
To write this review, I had to take little time out and try to put my thoughts together, get my feelings about this book straight. I found it very interesting from the beginning, some parts felt a bit too real and just the thought of world coming to this, had me feeling slightly distressed. I think as a dystopian classic, it should make you probably a bit uncomfortable and it really did.
The writing was a bit too hard to follow at times but story was really descriptive and interesting. You get to know the main character so well, you are literally in her head, her feelings, struggles to deal with ‘now’ in comparison with ‘then’ are right there in front of you. No second guessing, just straight, clear and raw.
The tale is written as a diary by one of the Handmaid’s, Offred, in Gilead, in some sort of totalitarian state in America, where women were stripped of even simple rights, to read, wear what they like, talk to who they like. It shows men’s power, power of Commanders over other people, highlights women in various positions turning against each other just to gain at least a bit of control over their lives. It’s just very strange world to happen to be in. Everyone is watching everyone, one step out of ordinary and it could cost you life.
The Bible and Christianity is present through out whole book. It’s twisted and used in purpose of ruling over people, controlling their behaviour. It works hand in hand with law enforcement and if you don’t follow the rules, you end up hanging on the Wall.
Handmaid’s sole purpose is to live in the house of her commander, to follow the rules, stay invisible and give them a child. Handmaids are limited on time and if they fail their task, they are either moved to different household or they just simply disappear. Their sole purpose is to carry and bring to the world healthy child. With no rights, no right to even think, Offred is different. She thinks, feels, still remembers old times, her family, her child being taken away from her and maybe that makes it harder for her to live. Like she says in one part of the book, generations after will find it easier, they won’t know what they are missing, even if it’s just simple things like reading or smoking cigarette.
My favourite part was the last chapter. Yes, book doesn’t give you clear ending, you are not sure what happened to Offred but ending gives a bit more historical insight. It’s set long after the original story, historians that found tapes are trying to put facts together, find out more. They give you more information about ‘Gilead times’ and you just understand the book a bit better. It’s all very surreal but important to read.
I struggled with this book at times, it made me feel a bit depressed and isolated, probably exactly what it was meant to do. It was very disturbing and as many other readers said, it was meant to provoke us to think deeper on things in society that are just not OK. It worked for me, however it left me feeling, I would still recommend it to others to read. Yes, it isn’t the easiest topic, yes, it won’t make you feel better at any way, it doesn’t have happy ending but you should read it, you should give it time to absorb in your mind and I do think it can give every reader something. I’m certain that this story will stay with me for a very long time.