Book Review

REVIEW: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m new to this whole book blog review thing, so bear with me as I learn my way around it…

I finished The Handmaid’s Tale last night.

The story takes place at the end of the 20th century; specifics of the time and place are not given, but I believe it’s set in the 1990s and takes place in Massachusetts, or at the very least, the Northeastern United States. Anywho, it’s a terrible society, called Gilead, in which women have become oppressed and reduced to specific roles.  Some of these roles are household cooks, “Marthas” (women too old for child-bearing and assume the role of housekeepers), and “Handmaids” (fertile women).  Girls will become “Wives” when they are deemed old enough (mid-teens) to marry men of higher standing in the society and if they are unable to have children, they will receive a Handmaid. Literally, for all intents and purposes the Handmaids are used for their wombs.  They are the surrogates, and have to bear children for the family with which they are stationed.  Once their assignment is up (if they’ve given the family a child, for example) they are then moved to another “posting.” Not only must they do this, they are no longer allowed to read and write, wear their own clothes or even have a name.  They are rarely able to speak to others (mostly, only when spoken to). Told from the point of view of one Handmaid, Offred (“Of”-and the name of the male head-of-household), we get a glimpse into this awful lifestyle that would push any woman to the edge.

I didn’t really care for this story.  Moving away from the content itself, there was something about the writing style I just didn’t like.  It seemed like commas were thrown in at random, making a lot of short phrases that made the reading choppy.  Offred goes back and forth from talking about her past (before becoming a Handmaid) to her present situation.  When she did these jumps there was not necessarily a clear demarcation (other than the fact that it was a separate paragraph) and a couple of times I had to re-read a paragraph to see where she was.  Also, the lack of quotation marks bothered me.  When remembering conversations from her past, there are no quotation marks or italics to indicate when someone was speaking.  That threw me off a little, and sometimes I would re-read a section to see what was part of the speech and not her narration.

The story itself is almost like a horror story for women, especially the independent women of today.  It’s terrible for the women who grew up with the freedoms to be reduced, but in a way it’s almost worse for the girls born during this period because they never get the chance to know their potential and what they could have accomplished.  Not only were the women reduced to this life of servitude, they also lost any family they had prior to this life; husbands and children were taken away.  If the children were female and healthy, they were adopted by a family to be trained to become a Wife.

The story ended so abruptly I was left wondering what the heck happened.  After the last chapter there is a section called “A Historical Note on The Handmaid’s Tale.” From my personal reading experience, this is usually the author’s way of talking about any research he or she has done or their journey in writing the novel. Well, to my surprise it was actually an epilogue.  It was a transcript from a lecture given in the year 2195 discussing Gilead.  I will leave it at that, without giving anything else away, in case any of you want to read it.

After doing some research, I found out that there was a movie released in 1990.  From the brief descriptions I’ve read, it sounds like it is very loosely based on the book. It starred Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway.  As I am a purist, this adaptation probably would have pissed me off (they changed Offred’s “name” to “Kate” which is a departure in and of itself since losing the name was a big deal!)

(Book photo links to Good Reads book page, Movie photo links to IMDB page)

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