This is part 4 of 4 of this series! One of my programs in university is English Critical Studies so we end up reading a lot of books. In one of my courses this semester, we read a total of 8 novels and I’ve been writing mini reviews for each of them! To see the previous three parts, click HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Standalone to date
“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 births, 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…”
I could reread this book over and over again. The author really makes an effort to fully integrate the ideas of a world devoid of feminism into our current society. Honestly, this reread couldn’t have come at a more relevant time (in the US at least). The style of the book is such that you’re sort of just dropped in the middle of the world and you have to figure out what’s going on. This plays to it’s advantage because it adds more uncertainty and fear and bewilderment to the reading experience which I relish. The ending is also one of my all-time favorite endings. All I can say is it have so much uncertainty that it’s wonderfully ambiguous and terrifying. This is one of those ‘serious’ books that I highly recommend everyone read. It’s an insightful look at the slippery slope on which we rise day in and day out. It’s perfectly painted and articulated with a wonderful evocation of emotion as you’re reading.
The Final Verdict:
One of the best books I’ve read in terms of atmosphere development and thematic excellence.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Standalone to date
“Clarissa Dalloway is civilised–without the ostentation of a socialite, but with enough distinction to attract them to her parties. She finds excess offensive, but surrounds herself with the highest quality and has an abhorrence for anything ugly or awkward. Mrs. Dalloway is as much a character study as it is a commentary on the ills and benefits society gleans from class. Through Virginia Woolf, we spend a day with Clarissa as she interacts with servants, her children, her husband, and even an ex-lover. As she plans and executes one of her celebrated parties, she reveals inner machinations incongruous with her class-defined behaviors, that ultimately enable her to transcend them.”
If you enjoy Virginia Woolf, by all means completely disregard everything I say right now. I think I was just Woolfed out after my public school education where I spent a whole semester reading her short stories en masse. After I while, I just get so tired of deciphering her specific style of writing. I will say this: I enjoyed it much more compared to the likely outcome of my reading it independently (I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it through). Woolf’s writing is just incredibly dense and intuitive and sometimes I just don’t have the energy for it. It gets so much easier once you figure out the organizational structure she employs (hint: the clock is the key). If you’re struggling with this but you want to finish it, I highly recommend paying attention to that. Generally speaking, it’s good writing and a very interesting subject (the collision of worlds in post-WWI Britain) but I just couldn’t convince myself to love it. Another interesting thing of note: it takes place over a single day which makes every miniscule action incredibly important and worth scrutiny. This is the only book I’ve ever read that’s done this which was interesting.
The Final Verdict:
If you like writing from Woolf’s era, you’ll love this. I couldn’t get into the dense and sometimes randomly directional writing.
Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Are you a fan of Virginia Woolf?