Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
Publisher: Vintage Books
Release Date: July 5th 2007 (first published 1985)
Summary (from Goodreads):
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
This was a Christmas present from Nathan that I’ve been meaning to get round to for a while. I’ve wanted to read this since it was cited as an influence for Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, which I adored. I’d heard of this book but didn’t really know anything about it.
It took me a little while to get into this, a combination of a bit of a slow beginning and the fact that I was only able to snatch a few pages here and there between looking after the wee baby. Once I got going though, I found it intriguing. I felt that the backstory was expertly leaked, just drip fed to you little by little, so you never had to read a big info-dumpy passage about this history that led to this situation. It also kept you guessing right the way through as to what really had happened to lead up to this, and how people had let it happen. I enjoyed piecing bits of it together from the early hints.
I liked the fact that the ending was ambiguous: it might be frustrating but it fitted the story well. I did struggle to read the lecture transcript at the end – I actually nearly skipped it, not realising it was part of the story! – but it was worth it just to discover more about the society from a historical viewpoint (the lecture is set years in the future) and for more hints on what happened to Offred.
The way this book really grips you is how it could actually happen. Though it may seem far-fetched, it isn’t hard to imagine this happening. It’s probably scarier reading it as a woman than as a man, as you see women in the story stripped of all power and treated as objects rather than as people. There are elements of this in our society today: this story just takes that to the extreme.
My favourite thing about this is the scale of Offred’s story. She’s not trying to overthrow the awful regime she’s trapped in: just to find a way to cope. While this might not seem very heroic, not everyone is a Katniss or a Tris who needs to save the world, and it’s good to see the story of just a regular person living in these horrifying times. I liked that she focussed more on her loneliness, missing her husband and child, and just wanting to be held and loved.
This is such a powerful read, I can’t recommend it enough, and the fact that it has inspired one of my favourite books (Only Ever Yours) makes it all the more special to me.