Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction, classics, speculative fiction, dystopian
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★★
Summary: In the not so distant future, the former America has become the oppressive Republic of Gilead. Before Gilead, Offred led a normal, happy life together with her husband, her daughter, and her job – and she even still had her own name. Now, in an age of declining births, she is a Handmaid, a woman who is only valued because she is fertile. She has been stripped of her rights, her identity, and her body, and is only there to provide a child for her Commander and his infertile wife. If she fails to give birth or dissents in any way, she will be shipped off to the Colonies, a wasteland permeated by radioactive toxins, or hanged at the Wall.
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
– The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s dystopian novel reads like every feminist’s nightmare and still holds such great relevance for our world today, even though it was originally published in 1985. As brilliantly written as it obviously is, this was a horrifying read, mostly because it’s a dystopian world that doesn’t seem completely improbable. Drawing obvious parallels to far-right religious organizations and authoritarian ideologies, there are several things in this book that are eerily similar to events in recent history and today’s society.
I got swept up in Offred’s character and her story from page one and I don’t think there was a single moment in the entire book where I wasn’t completely into it. Atwood’s writing is so lyrical and dreamy, almost just a stream of consciousness at times, and usually it would take me a while to get into a style that occasionally omits quotation marks in dialogue, but in this case I hardly even gave it any thought. Instead I was thinking “If I ever were to write anything one day I hope it flows like this”. Maybe some would find this writing style tiresome but I was completely sold on it. It’s so sparse and quiet – this is overall a strikingly quiet dystopian world – yet it’s rich in detail. The drama is there but it’s subtle and restrained, and at the same time the prose still reads with a certain intensity and urgency.
The world-building is not an elaborate one but we gradually learn about this new society and its functions as the story progresses, through Offred’s observations. The explanation and recollection of the events that led to Gilead’s inception is also gradually revealed to us, partly told through Offred’s flashbacks. It is Offred’s quiet feelings and not to mention her memories, memories that she struggles to keep alive, that creates a blend of history and the present reality. This is what drives the plot together with Offred herself, whose character is the kind of character you easily get close to. She is likeable and you quickly sympathize with her. More importantly, she represents someone who remembers how the world used to be, she was there when it all happened, and thus she ties the story together.
The ending is largely an abrupt and open-ended one. I personally enjoy ambiguous endings like this, but I know some will probably have issues with it. However, without spoiling, I have to say that the book still wraps everything up somehow, but it’s done in an unusual way. I think it really works in this case as I feel you’re gaining yet another different perspective on everything.
I agree with Atwood when she says this is more speculative fiction than it is science fiction, which is what this book is often classified as. This is an overall bleak, dark, but also profound novel that I think everyone should read, both for the feminist prose and for the undeniable relevance it still holds. Highly recommended.