Blurb: The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all 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.
Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Vintage, an imprint of Random House
Genre: Fiction, Utopian, Dystopian, Speculative
This book follows the life of Offred, a Handmaiden, in a world where a woman’s sole purpose is to provide children for powerful families – or else they face dire consequences. Imposing rules and regulations are somewhat turned on their heads as the desperation of her assigned family reaches a fever pitch, giving Offred a series of moral complications – but, of course, she must remain chaste and subservient on the outside to keep up appearances. This story is an interesting take on what happens when society is fractured and truly encourages deep thought.
I absolutely loved this book! The gripping plot only becomes more enthralling as the book progresses, making it increasingly difficult to put it down! The insight into this dystopian/utopian world is frankly quite chilling and provides more than enough food for thought for the reader. The main character, Offred, was well thought out and came across as very realistic. Her reactions to other characters and their actions were insightful and truly indicative of someone who feels detached from their surroundings but holds an ever-dwindling hope that things could go back to the way they were. She does not entirely give up on her previous life and loved ones, even though she realistically understands that she will probably never see them again. I loved that as the book progressed we were able to see different sides of the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Initially seen as hard, unfeeling characters who simply go along with the new world order, enjoying their power and influence, we later see that they too have their own desperations – to be understood, to be loved and to reach their own goals. All in all, the setting and characters must have been thoroughly contemplated and planned out which really shows in the progression of the book.
As for what I disliked about this book, I must say that the first half or so was quite slow with not many huge plot points. While I understand that this was done to allow the reader to get to grips with this new world and the characters who reside in it and very cleverly set up some of the relationships that become important further on, it felt like a bit of hard slog. As well as this, the ending left me so frustrated! Without giving any spoilers, I was left with more questions than answers and want desperately for there to be a follow up (maybe the TV show will resolve this for me, I’ll have to see!).
This book was first published in 1996 – a year before I was even born! – yet still feels relevant to today’s social and political climate. It’s strange to think that there is some possibility to this story and that one day our society may regress to one with such painfully patriarchal controls.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about alternate versions of our own world, reading from the point of view of a woman on the edge or perhaps even just enjoyed the TV show!
Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read any of the books that come after this one? I’d love to know!