May 4, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

I don't think I can say much about this book that hasn't already been said (see a small sampling below), and I read it several years ago, so the details aren't clear. But the chilling feeling the book gave me was. The Handmaid's Tale, like 1984, is set in a frightening version of the future, in a society totally constricted by government -and religious- control. Some catastrophe has caused fewer and fewer children to be born, until women are pretty much only valued for their childbearing ability- and used as objects to that purpose. They have no rights. Their manner of dress, who they speak to, where they go- all is restricted. The protagonist, Offred, is one of the "handmaids" kept to bear children- and as she slowly unfolds her story, we learn more and more exactly what that role entails. Probably one of the most depressing things about the story is that Offred can remember what life was like before- she used to have a family, a job, live in a society we could recognize. Comparing her current situation to how she remembers life used to be, Offred observes how quickly everyone's perceptions - even her own- have changed to fall in line with the prevailing brainwashing. She tries to find little ways to keep her spirits up and assert her personality without bringing undue attention to herself -that would be dangerous- but it's a stark life, a depressing existence, with no happy ending.

The only other book I've read by Atwood, Cat's Eye, didn't really touch me strongly, but Handmaid's Tale is a compelling, horrifyingly fascinating book. I really ought to try more by this author.

Rating: 4/5......... 350 pages, 1985

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13 comments:

Nymeth said...

So far I've read this, The Blind Assassin and The Penelopiad. I loved them all, but this was definitely my favourite. Such a powerful book.

Janet said...

It does sound powerful -- like a mix of 'Children of Men' and '1984.'

I've never read anything by Atwood.

jacketsandcovers said...

I've never read anything by Atwood, but this sounds terrifying -- in a good way. It sounds like a movie we watched in English class one year about England under an infertility crisis, and the "handmaids" part reminds me of one of the jobs in The Giver, where girls have three children to replenish society and then disappear.

Jeane said...

I thought of the Giver, too.

Bybee said...

For me, this is "the one" regarding Atwood..although I'm very fond of The Blind Assassin.

That Serena Joy woman reminded me of Tammy Faye Bakker when I first read the book.

Jules said...

I've read 3 books by Atwood, including Handmaid Tale (Edible Women, Oryx and Crake are the other two), and Handmaids Tale is one of my favourites. She is a fantastic author, and like you said in your review, sets up a frightening vision of the future. Great review!

TheBlackSheep said...

I've been wanting to read something from Atwood, but haven't gotten to it yet. This sounds good, depressing, but good. Thanks for the review!

carolsnotebook said...

I read this back in high school, so I don't remember it well, but I do remember being fascinated. I've read several of Atwood's books since then.

Jeane said...

I just remembered I actually have a copy of Oryx and Crake, but have yet to read it.

Trish said...

I read this before I even knew what dystopian societies were--such a fascinating concept to me at the time (well, still is). I'm glad you liked this one. Her books are all so different that you never quite know what you'll get (except strong feminine themes). I really liked The Blind Assassin as well.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I've never read anything from Atwood but do have this book in my library. I let my mother-in-law borrow it and she returned it unread. She didn't like it all, which really surprised me because I haven't heard anything bad about it.

Jeane said...

Trish- Maybe I should try the Blind Assassin

Natasha- I can see how the subject matter would disturb some. When I was younger I would probably have objected to the descriptions of Offred performing her duties.

Anna said...

I read this one in college, and I loved it. It freaked me out and gave me a lot to think about. I've read a few Atwood novels since then, but nothing tops this one.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric