Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Published: 1985

I am going to acknowledge that I haven’t been reading as many Canadian novels as I should be really, but I blame living on another continent for that! I actually came across Hulu’s TV series of the Handmaid’s Tale on the plane that reminded me of this book and convinced me to read this a second time. I watched the first episode and was so hooked that when I got home I immediately had to re-read it!

Yes that’s right I have already read this book, but it was a little while ago now, when I was in university studying English Literature. I remember at the time that I enjoyed the book, but it hadn’t stood out for me a lot. Thinking back, I think this might have been because the course/module was all about dystopian novels so the theme got a little repetitive and I read it on the back of one of my favourite books of all time, Don DeLillo’s White Noise so maybe that’s why it didn’t stick with me.

However this time around, I couldn’t put the book down. It was such a haunting book – primarily because I could imagine the themes dealt in it happening in the real world. Any dystopian novel that gives me the creeps because it feels plausible deserves 4 stars!

We journey through the novel through Offred’s narration. To me it feels like an interview, with her sitting across from me re-telling me her life story, often skipping to moments before the totalitarian and theocratic state took over the United States to highlight and help us understand how we even got there. What we learn, is that the country is experiencing dangerously low reproduction rates due to pollution and chemical spills.  A political coup takes over whose solution to this issue is to restrict women’s freedoms, where women cannot own property or have jobs. They forcefully indoctrinate fertile women, to be subservient to men and to focus their entire lives around producing children. Once they graduate from the Red centre, the women then become Handmaids and are placed in the homes of the elite that are struggling to produce offspring. Offred sole purpose in life now becomes to perform wordless, emotionless sexual intercourse with the commander of the house once a month in an attempt to produce them a child that she will then never see again.

I found this theme of restricting women’s freedoms especially poignant in todays society, given the media rise and attention to inequality in the modern world today. It’s a little scary reading this book alongside the #metoo movement and media’s slow reveal of the constant and current gender inequality in the workforce, as it highlights are own imperfections and issues. Of course, the book is playing on an extreme, but you can’t help but see how easily it could happen should the political and economic atmosphere changes rapidly, especially if people in todays world demonstrates some of that sort of behaviour and beliefs.

 

Q: Which dystopian novel most resonates with you? I’d love to understand why!

 

 

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. It’s been a while since I read this. However, it’s the kind of novel that sticks in your mind long after you close the book. Brilliant and Scary! Margaret Atwood is a writer I admire greatly, for her imagination, versatility and outstanding command of the English language – among other things.
    In fact, I’m re-reading one of her books at the moment. It’s a non-fiction work entitled ‘In Other Worlds’ in which she shares some of the secrets of her childhood and gives an insight into how she began wriitng dystopian novels. Interestingly, she has dedicated the book to Ursula LeGuin, a near contemporary who has written/writes some of the best sci-fi on the market.

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