Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Published: 1985
Pages: 388
Genre: Fiction
Set in the future, this is the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead (once the United States). In this new era, the fertility rate is low, therefore the women who can reproduce are "owned" by the powerful Commanders. They are forced to have sex once a month in hopes of bearing a child. The women in this society are not allowed to read, write, be original, or be free. We follow Offred, a Handmaid, as she attempts to remember her forgotten past and uncover the mysteries of what happened.
The Handmaid's Tale is a very unconventional and original novel, there's no doubt about that. It's my second Atwood book (after Alias Grace, which I really enjoyed) so I was quite excited to dig in.

This is not a book that you should read to be entertained, but rather, to be enlightened. There isn't any action, and there aren't any fast-paced or exciting events. However, that's not what the book is about. Atwood wrote this as a warning to all of us, to raise awareness about the repression of women in many societies that still exist today. In the Republic of Gilead, women are solely valued for their ovaries - and only if they're in good working order. They cannot work, make money, have relationships (whether friendly or romantic), or be educated. Sadly, we hear of these sorts of things still happening in this day and age. Certainly, The Handmaid's Tale is taken to the extreme, but, as Atwood says in the afterword, nothing included in her book hasn't already happened in history. And doesn't the saying go: "History always repeats itself"?

Another part of the book that I really enjoyed was Atwood's writing style as a whole. The simplicity of her narrative creates the feeling that we're listening to a real, average woman speaking. Here's a passage that stuck with me:

A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window is partly open - it only opens partly - the air can come in and make the curtains move.

When she described the wind rustling the curtains as "make the curtains move", I was pleasantly surprised by that tiny detail. There's no need to over-describe things to sound like more of an author, and that's what I like about Atwood's writing. It's effortless and uncomplicated. Which, for me, packs more of a punch.

The Handmaid's Tale is an essential book containing many relevant themes and messages that are sometimes not talked about enough these days. It begs to be read by anyone and everyone.

Final verdict: Must-read! You might want to purchase this one and add it to your collection.


Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Wow, what a powerful read! I would never have picked this up but what a great message. I know some friends who would love it too. The cover is beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

Great review!

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

By the way, if you want to friend me on book blogs I'm under Alyssa Kirk - clever huh? Hope you find me!

Emidy said...

Thank you! And yes, I love the cover, too. It's perfect for this book. Cool, I'll definitely search for you on Book Blogs and check our your own blog, too!

Dana said...

I read this book ages ago and remember it being a compelling read... maybe it's time for me to pick up some more Atwood!

Emidy said...


Yes, you definitely should! I just love her writing. Alias Grace is what got me interested, and I'm planning on reading The Blind Assassin next. I have it on my shelf but never got around to picking it up.

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

Oh, I read this one a few years ago and LOVED it, or should I say I was really amazed and haunted by it. What a powerful book! I have The Blind Assassin to read to so I'll be looking forward to your review!

Nymeth said...

I agree - not a pleasant or comfortable read, but a powerful and important one. I also agree with you about her writing!

Emidy said...

Bookalicious Ramblings: It is very haunting, isn't it? I need to get started on The Blind Assassin soon!

Nymeth: Yes, it's very powerful. I doubt I'll ever forget it.