Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale
By: Margaret Atwood
Published By: Anchor Books
Publication Date: March 1998 (first published in 1985)
Page Count: 311
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Adult - Fiction, Dystopia
The Handmaid’s Tale has been made into a major TV series now, and I have heard nothing but good things about it. I was planning on watching it when my friends told me I had to read the book first; like a good book worm I complied! What I found was a very interesting story of a dystopian future where women are commodities once again, in a man’s world. The cause is the crippling decline in fertility in the human race – those who are fertile are consigned to become Handmaids, there for the reproductive needs of the rich and powerful.
I found this story compelling because the decline into this dystopian state was so well imagined that I could see it happening today. The societal structure was fascinating to read about and I liked to sit there thinking quite deeply about it all as I read. What I didn’t like were the endless flashbacks to Offred’s life before as they cut the pace and directed my attention to things I wasn’t interested in. I think I’d probably cut about half the book away to the editing floor. I am no great literary reader though and I had the sense all the way through that this is the sort of stuff that my high school English teacher would have been salivating over; there are definite literary devices at work here. It is a book that takes a little reading... for one thing, I remained oblivious to the names of the Handmaids for most of the book – I didn’t make the connection that they were given names relating to their new masters... Of Fred... I felt so stupid when I realised that, near the end of the book!!
Ultimately I think I wanted more story. It ended where I felt it really started to take off. Perhaps this is where the TV show is going to suit me better.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...