Book Reviews

2014 Reading Countdown. First up, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

38447[2]“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…” ~Goodreads

I have finally read this classic dsytopian novel (is 1985 considered classic?) and loooved and hated it.

Yes, hate is a strong word, but I disliked the premise: women’s rights taken away, no reading allowed, no education, restricted lives, subservient to men, only goal in life is to bear children for another couple, no jobs, no property…it felt as if I was reading about a time from the past not something that could happen in the future.

Every hair on my body stood on end and how the women were treated just made me very angry. But books like this are so important to get the reader out of their comfort zone and open a window to what is and what could be.

This character driven story narrated by Offred does bring up issues relating to women such as: sexism, feminism and religious fundamentalism but what struck me the most was something that Offred’s mother said during a “flashback” moment in narration, that it is “truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” The complacency by all the women in the Republic of Gilead was surprising. Not just the terrible treatment to the Handmaids but even the Wives who were treated like some washed up, dried up old hags and had to sit by idle while their husband tried to impregnate a Handmaid. If all these women and some decent men rebelled against these dictators it could have made a difference. Something. It was wishful thinking but that’s the point of the story. To make the reader mad, contemplate, hopeful, etc. I like to believe that if I were in that situation I would be more like Moira (Offred’s friend) who tries to escape and then chooses her penalty rather than submit to the repressions.

Of course my copy is flagged like no tomorrow and I must share a few quotes that really spoke to me. One in particular about freedoms. This I found relevant in light of the recent video of a woman being catcalled relentlessly walking down a street. Have you seen it? This quote is at the beginning when Offred is remembering back to her life before when women were not protected like Gilead claims to do in the new world.

“I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew: Don’t open your door  to a stranger, even if he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look. Don’t go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.

I think about laundromats. What I wore to them, shorts, jeans, jogging pants. What I put into them; my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself. I think about having such control.

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

Powerful right?! And this book was written in 1985. I was 11. At a time when Madonna was just coming onto the scene with her “Like  A Virgin” album. How relevant The Handmaid’s Tale was then and even more so now, dictating what is considered “safe” for women. I remember being told many of the same scary tales because I was the “weaker” gender. And while much of it was true for common sense and street smarts, being told I should be scared of men, nights, being alone, etc created a power for men they didn’t need more of. Sorry…going on a tangent.

The other quote I loved and thought was spot on was on pages 226-227 and is too long to quote. It’s basically both pages but really illuminates the roles in a relationship and how we constantly reinvent ourselves to mesh with another human being.

“If you didn’t work it out it was because one of you had the wrong attitude. Everything that went on in your life was thought to be due to some positive or negative power emanating from inside your head.

If you didn’t like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves. And so we would change the man, for another one. Change, we were sure, was for the better always. We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves.”

What an amazing read! I can’t say enough about it and how it affected me. It is the first book I’ve read by Atwood and she is a master of language. I look forward to reading her short story collection Stone Mattress that came out this year.

One more thing: THE ENDING!!! Those who have read it, what did you think? At first I was frantically looking for more pages because I needed to know! I HAD to know! But I also love open ended stories. Stories that don’t have perfect little happy endings and just linger for the reader to decide for themselves. I bet you can guess how I wrote the ending in my head. 🙂


7 thoughts on “2014 Reading Countdown. First up, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. YAAAAAY! I think the thing I love most about this book is how scarily relevant it is, today, when the battle over women’s reproductive rights is all over the headlines, and we are still told to shut up and sit down and be happy with the freedoms we DO have.

    That quote about freedom to/freedom from gives me chills every time.

    I love the ending! Ambiguous endings tend to stick with me the most, and I still think about the ending of this book all the time.

  2. Great post. I also loved this book. I studied it for my A Levels last year and was completely blown away by it. Initially I had not even heard of the dystopian genre and was no excitted by its futurstic themes. However, once I read it I was extemely impressed by how eerie and creepy it was. By far, my favourite aspect of the book was its feminist point of view.

  3. Oh, I love this book. I like to imagine I would rebel against a system like this, but think that often repression happens gradually and sometimes it has crept on on us before we realise and by then we feel powerless. I HAVE seen the catcalling video. It’s very eye opening and belies the notion that women are ‘asking’ to be harassed because of the way they are dressed. This makes it clear that women attract unwanted attention regardless of how they are dressed. Though this book is almost thirty years old, we still have a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights and status. What a visionary Atwood is. If you liked this, you should try her MadAddam series – post-apocalyptic dystopia – very good.

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