The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Summary: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...
This is one of those books I think is worth reading and worth talking about. I must admit, it’s a book I’m a little hesitant to review because of the feminist issues it deals with and the major question of plausibility. But I read this for enjoyment and because I’m curious about most, if not all, dystopian novels. To me, it was a mixture of elements that reminded me of 1984 by George Orwell and Children of Men by P.D. James, with a tone much like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
I liked the way it was written. The dialogue was not in quotations, which felt to me as if it was a story being told after everything happened and each scene took place some time in the past. The way the author chose to describe everything and the use of short sentences and fragments worked for me. “Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket.” This style of writing doesn’t always work for me, but when it does, I absolutely love it.
The story isn’t told in chronological order. It jumps around from scene to scene so that I felt as if I was piecing it all together, moment by moment. I was figuring the whole thing out as I went along and I felt that this style of writing challenged me and made me think more. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it was also misleading for me. I thought that because everything was being given to me in pieces, eventually, I would find out why and how this all happened and I was patient about it. I say it was misleading because I never was told why or how it happened, especially how it happened so quickly. This was a huge part of why it lost some stars for me because I feel that dystopian novels ought to tell you how the world got like that to some degree or it should be set further in the future so that the main characters don’t remember how it used to be and so they wouldn’t be able to tell you how it all got out of hand. Straddling the line and not telling the reader how it happened like that just bothers me. I question the plausibility of it, then. Instead of wondering if it’s possible AT ALL (which I’m still not sure about), I’m more nitpicky and wondering if it’s possible AS IT HAPPENED and I’m left feeling that the answer is no.
I won’t get into the feminist aspects of the book. It asks important questions and I understand why it is a feminist classic, but I’m not a feminist, nor am I tasked with dissecting this book in an academic manner, so I’m not going to. I enjoyed it, it spoke to me on some different levels and I do think it is a book that should be read by everyone – perhaps not as a warning or a symbol but as a conversation piece. It’s interesting, if nothing else.
I would recommend this book to others as an interesting dystopian novel. It is depressing and dark, so I would probably warn slower readers about this so they know what they are getting into. I imagine spending too much time on this book alone could sort of bring you down.