The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: August 1985
Publisher: Houghton Miffin Harcourt
BUY A COPY
The Handmaid’s Tale 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 and is 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 in 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 a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.
Well I totally feel behind the trend on this one, but I decided to give it a go. It’s been on my TBR for such a long time but I’m really not a hyped book kind of person, so I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. It was an eye opener in a lot of ways. I can see a huge amount of significance and realism in the elements of the book. In such a technologically advanced world I shouldn’t even believe that things could manifest itself into the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, but there you have it. Women have no rights. No sexual rights to do with their body what they see fit. Sex has now become the exact opposite of what it should be. No affection, no love and no right to refuse. They are treated less than human, men are their superior, their god, their reason for being. The Handmaid’s tale examines the life of one such woman. Unfortunately, I just closed the book and had feelings of meh! Other readers have seemed to hold this book in high regard, but I just felt that I had read something else entirely.
This was a completely new author for me. Atwood is regarded as a national treasure. The matriarch of Dystopian fiction, why wasn’t I getting what she was selling? I wistfully opened the first page and started hoping I could add myself to the ranks of becoming a fan just like so many others…In good conscious, I just cannot. There were just so many issues I had with the book. Firstly, though I want to talk about the positives because there were some and I have to give credit where credit is due.
The idea behind the plot is a classic, unfailing one. It did feel like an extension on from Orwell’s 1984. It examines a world that will inevitably become our reality if we constantly ignore political groups/individuals that threaten our very social and democratic freedoms that we do indeed take for granted. It’s living in fear and changing our very way of life after right wing groups threatening it. Atwood certainly captured the fear and shock of how a life such as that could affect us all. It was bleak and uncaring, and I think I would rather die than live my life like that day in and day out. The wistfulness of the girls reminiscing of their past lives. Imaging what their husbands are doing now? Children still alive or enduring a fate like theirs? It was real and dark and not a happy picture in one’s mind.
Okay…deep breath. The Negatives (I actually hate writing negative reviews, but I want to be honest to my readers). This is the second book I have read this year that doesn’t use punctuation marks to distinguish different passages of speech. Why the heck not? I thought this was just basic 101 in the rules of writing. I’m a bit slow in the morning, I need it to be obvious to me. This just wasn’t a good start. Secondly, why on earth does the author feel the need to have exuberantly long sentences. Even the tortoise would have beaten it in a race. This wasn’t just a one off, it occurred several times throughout the novel. The story felt disjoined and unmatched and I felt the flow could have been so much smoother. There was an undercurrent of staccato highlighted throughout the book. It was an immediate turn off.
I wanted to enjoy this book I really did. I just didn’t think it worked. I know I am in the minority there and I’m swimming in an ocean of frenzied fans that threaten to pull me under, but I need to be honest. It is an important topic and one that needs to constantly have a strong voice, but The Handmaid’s Tale is not it. 1984 shouts louder in my opinion.