Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Published: August 2016
Genre: Dystopian, Classic, Feminist, Adult.
Average Goodreads rating: 4.05
‘It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge’
Offred is a Handmaid. She has only one function: to breed. If she refuses to play her part she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. She may walk daily to the market and utter demure words to other Handmaid’s, but her role is fixed, her freedom a forgotten concept.
Offred remembers her old life – love, family, a job, access to the news. It has all been taken away. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire.
Includes exclusive content: In The ‘Backstory’ you can read Margaret Atwood’s account of how she came to write this landmark dystopian novel.
My Rating and General Opinion
I think my expectations for this one were maybe too high because I although I highly enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. For me this wasn’t perfect. Let’s say that the idea behind it was truly interesting, easy to relate to and important, but the way it was delivered and elaborated… not that much. As entertaining and (incredibly) rich as the story behind was, my problems with the writing didn’t let me enjoy this as much as I would have liked.
This was my first ever Atwood read and although my experience wasn’t a 10 I really want to read more of her. Her mind and ideas were so on point that it was truly scary to read about this nearer-than-it-should future.
The concept was there, the process (later cleared) were if nothing, intricate. Offred’s POV was what ruled this book and that’s also why so many things were left open or unexplained, because she could only know so much.
I must confess there was one specific thing that got on my nerves. Conversations. [you will understand this better once you read it, because I don’t want to spoil anything] That’s it, the way the conversations were written in didn’t make much sense (until later on, semi-explained). The way they were structured wasn’t the usual way we find them in other books, at least not all of them. Yes, there were exceptions, of course, Mr. Fred apparently was able to maintain normal conversations with Offred and as the story progressed you got see more of them, but at the beginning I was really confused, didn’t know in which tense or with whom our Offred was talking!
Other problem I had with the writing were those time jumps Offred went through to try to explain certain situations. There was no kind of punctuation or anything that pointed out you were not reading something in the present, but in the past. Yes, if you continued reading you got there, but I would have liked some kind of style difference between past and present, because this whole story was already confusing enough to add to that.
It’s also true that most of my problems were solved in that epilogue, but all of the doubts and problems I had while reading, didn’t disappear.
I don’t know if it’s only me but this story, although super interesting and insightful, felt kind of short didn’t it? It wasn’t a small novel, not by a long shot, but it still fell short. With the whole concept of this novel, we could have had a series of books. The idea was there, the plot was also there, the different characters and structure of this new-world were there so why not continue analyzing it?
You probably have heard enough about this dystopian novel, that feels much more real than The Hunger Games. In this novel we follow Offred’s (twisted name, later explained) day-to-day in this new Colony created in the US, called Republic of Gilead and apparently hard-core Christian (although that makes you think…). Why was it created? By whom? How it came to happen?? Well, non of that is answered 😠😠. But a fair warning, this new world that you enter in happens in the early 2000 (although it seems more like the mid 70s) and after real life world happens. It would be as this same thing happened right now, suddenly, women taken, families destroyed, loved ones lost… and a new slave ecosystem created.
Like I was saying, we follow Offred, a handmaid, who is taken to a new home. This is the home of The Commander and his Wife. She is there with one clear purpose, to give this couple an heir. Described this way it doesn’t sound half bad or out of the ordinary, because even now surrogates are often used by couples that cannot physically have children. But this Republic of Gilead’s sense of living is further from that normalcy. Handmaids are used by the commanders and seniors of high hierarchy to produce children and once the deal is done, these maids are taken to another home. So yes, a handmaid’s only purpose and the only reason she is alive is to produce new beings into this twisted world. They are apparently seen as pure machines, not even toys (although in some cases that too). And once they get older or aren’t unable to produce a child they are simply exiled. In this households you can not only find the owners and the handmaid but also normal maids called Marthas. These maids are the cook and the cleaner and these posts are covered by older women. But are there only women that serve? Well not, there are also drivers and security guards, but of course all in-house work must be done by women… ejem… give me a break! (I am not criticizing the novel, but the society created here)
This society is very structured with a certain set of rules of which breach can mean murder, easily done. That’s why there are no rebellions, women, especially handmaids, end up accepting their new situation because the alternative is much worse apparently. You are introduced to different characters in different steps/degrees of this new Republic, we get to see how days pass and how zombies are created (I saw Offred mostly as a zombie, because what kind of life is that?) and then suddenly everything ends, everything stops and we give a jump of apparently almost 200 years! I have to give one to Miss Atwood, she created a pretty convincing, complete and twisted ecosystem in this Republic of Gilead of hers!
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”
As the spectator I wanted more, wanted to know how we got to this mess and what happened next, before and after the epilogue. This was an open-ended book. It’s considered a great book, a modern classic and I completely understand why. It’s one of those books that makes you think, that leaves you wanting more and that, only a good book can do! 😉
More than colorful I would say that in this one we got a varied range of grey coloured characters! None ultimately over shining, not before nor after the world took a turn for the worst.
First we have the omnipresent Offred, our main protagonist. I didn’t find a particularly distinct connection to her. I was sad for her, but more for all of the women that were harmed and whose rights were suspended indefinitely. I don’t think she was a strong character. She had her wise, nonconformist and enraged moments but I think her weak ones surpassed the strong ones.
Then we have Offred family and friends. As the story goes we discover that Offred (real name non disclosed) had in fact a husband named Luke and a daughter, all missing and who knows where. Not only that but we meet Offred’s best friend from college whom she was still very tied to called Moira. Moira was the strong character of this story, when she didn’t accept her situation she tried to fight it, tried to get some kind of alternative, unlike Offred who just gave up. Because handmaid’s had to have companions to walk around town, we were introduced to Ofglen and let me say she was the surprise of this story, the one who help open up a little window in Offred’s zombie-like soul.
After them, there’s the household, the people who had a bigger impact in Offred’s everyday life. There’s the serious cook who doesn’t appreciate or understand Offred’s position, the friendlier cleaner who supports Offred’s decision and tries to make things at least a little more bearable and last the chauffeur Nick, who is described as not at all bad-looking man who Offred is (although regretful) attracted to.
Lastly we have the home owners and clear part of the dictatorship, The Commander and his Wife Serena Joy. What to say about these… where the Commander turns out to be nicer, for his own selfish reasons, his wife is nothing like it. Miss Serena Joy is a selfish, pathetic, rude and dead-inside woman. Don’t even make me think of the way the act-of-love aka sex was brought up… that situation was totally uncomfortable (even for the reader) and senseless 100%! It made me want to puke!
I do recommend this one and not only because it’s considered a classic but because of the importance of the subject that it tackles head on. One very important and incredible in this day and age.