Review Thursday: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Goodreads Blurb:
Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels–historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)–but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell’s 1984and Huxley’s Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood’s portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead’s Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
The Handmaid’s Tale is an imaginatively audacious novel that is at once a page-turning psychological thriller, a moving love story, and a chilling warning about what might be waiting for us around the corner. What ultimately makes it stand out is Atwood’s ability to balance a passionate political statement with finely wrought literary fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale is a remarkable work by one of Canada’s most inventive writers. –Jeffrey Canton”

Hmmmm… I liked this book… and then I didn’t… and now I really just don’t know.
I’m going to start off with my complaints.  One: the formatting.  There were weird run-on sentences and no quotation marks where they would be well appreciated.  At the end of the book, Ms. Atwood says that the journal was ‘adapted from a voice recording’ that was found in some tunnel or something in an attempt to make it seem all that more real.  And it does!  However, it seems to me that it also denounces some of the stuff said in the book.  If it was a voice recording, then how did the world get back to normal?  How did the people who adapted it into written form not put quotation marks?  Also, during the book, Offred ‘writes’ as though she really is writing in a journal right after these events happen or as she remembers them – not during her escape or whatever happened at the end.  It’s all a bit fishy.

Two: lack of realistic causes.  It’s explained how the US got to where it was in the book but it was really not realistic at all.  I mean, everything fell apart in a matter of years (think 2-3) and suddenly everything was different.  You’d think there’d be SOME backlash or something but everyone sort of went along with it (for the most part).  It was like out of nowhere all these extremist police people showed up and forced people into their respective roles.

However, it did fascinate me and horrify me at the same time.  This is a world where women are forced into submission under the guise of ‘protecting them so they can repopulate the country’.  Putting aside the whole repopulation thing (nowhere does it say that a bunch of people die from a solar flare or something…) it’s actually a very interesting book idea – it just wasn’t done all that well.

I guess the reason why I’m giving it 2.5 stars even after I’ve said all that horrible stuff is because when I was reading it, I felt like I was Offred, not just reading her story.  I was engrossed even with all the flaws and I felt like it was worth pushing through the slow beginning to get to the meat of the novel.

The Final Verdict:
An interesting concept although it definitely could have been utilized in a more effective way.  I felt totally connected to the story despite it’s major shortcomings.
2.5 stars

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.” 

“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.” 

“The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil” 

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.” 

0 thoughts on “Review Thursday: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood”

  1. I felt the same way. I liked it, but didn't so I only gave it two stars. It felt like a middle or second book. It needed at least a prequel to explain what happened.


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