Thursday, May 29, 2014

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has been in the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With for some time now- I enjoyed The Blind Assassin, and quickly found more of her books to be my kind of read, including The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. It seems The Handmaid's Tale is a book rarely found in thrift shops, as I found the others first, and it really tells which of her books people treasure the most.

Of course, with any book with topics as controversial as religion, politics, feminism, and fertility, there are bound to be those who hate it. Oddly, though I am a Christian, I didn't find myself offended or put off by the author's version of a future society, because it's just that- a theory told via a novel. When you consider the crimes done in the name of faith, this is not at all far-fetched, and really- this is fiction. The author can do whatever she or he wishes through a book, but it doesn't make it true.

The Plot:
In a dystopian near-future, all hell has broken loose. Religious extremists have taken over the government by sheer force, resulting in a Pandora's box of reformation. Women are considered inferior, are given little access to anything beyond home and hearth, and the ones who can bear children are often taken to be "handmaids" (breeding stock for the wealthy and in power). Offred is one such woman, and this is her tale.

One of my favorite quotes comes from this book:

"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."
   ~Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

I was scrolling through the one-star critiques on Goodreads for perspective and found a number of people felt this book hated on men, was impossibly far-fetched (must I reiterate the fiction card?), and was just plain awful because the author left out quotation marks. Do we describe books with female antagonists as hating on women? I did find most of the male characters as generally unlikable, it is told from the point-of-view of a woman who is enslaved basically as their brood mare. And if a lack of quotation marks truly causes you to write an elaborate and scathing review of this book, that's very sad (because I barely noticed it, and would offer to pencil them in for you).

I don't mean to bash people who don't appreciate this book, but sometimes the reasoning behind the reviews is a bit convoluted. I agree that men are painted negatively, and that this is a difficult book to swallow for women (brood mares are not what we want to be), for religious people (we're all secretly extremists), even for men (who are frequently portrayed as antagonists), and for people who read books solely for the fun of it (this one is hard to read without forming opinions). But sometimes, even if we read a book and loathe it, at least it provides a platform for conversation, and this book will continue to bring about a lot of them, which tells of this relatively small book's audacity.

The Handmaid's Tale tells of a society in which women hold no power, and their worth is relative to their ability to bear children. I couldn't say that it is completely original, as our history tells a similar tale, and history has a way of repeating itself. But by telling Offred's tale, the author has opened a portal for dialogue, and a cautionary tale for both the current and future readers, all while engaging the reader in an immersive world. If you need a book to widen your view of politics and religion, consider this to be your next read.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars for a thought-provoking and entertaining read.

Content: Sex/rape, though not graphic, violence, and dystopian ugliness. Ages 18+

Page Count: 311 in my paperback edition


  1. It sounds interesting.
    Thank you for the review:)


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