I don’t know how many of you ever read Margaret Atwood, but I love her projection and speculation on situations that we think (or hope) that are purely fictionalized. But in this re-read of this book (I’ve read it frequently) mostly spurred on by the new television series on Hulu, I thought now would be a good time for a re-read.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaids are a group of women in servitude – meant to serve as breeding stock for their society, and simply breeding stock for reading, interactions and any sense of normalcy that the protagonist, Offred can remember is gone. The world is in chaos and the changes and subjugations of the ‘least’ of society (read women) are maneuvered like pawns on a chessboard without the bonus of increased power.
Slow to move, with long passages that set a feel, draw the reader in to this dystopian setting, the limitations on personal freedoms mesh with the utterly chilling events, this is a book that feels far more ‘possible’ to me than say Orwell’s 1984. While both play with the ideas of power, suppression and tyranny, the voice of Offred was accessible and more present to me, even as the determination of others sought to silence that voice and the dangerous thoughts of individuality and desire for ‘more’ was gaining ground with her.
What emerges most strongly for me are three things: the quest for (and acquisition of) power by those who have a need and a thirst to acquire more with all of the sycophantic murmurs that follow, the dangers of devaluation of a group, people or ideas, and the practice of the quest and the devaluation to enforce superiority through political, societal and sexual means. When you step back and look at the current political climate in this country, the rush to devalue and deride groups, thoughts and people, all whom present a challenge to the grasping and greed-fueled ambitions of those in positions of power, the story becomes even more chilling.
Atwood is a master of multi-layered moments and messages, what at first glance could be a feminist-ish dystopian fantasy shows that ideas and imagination do not exist in a vacuum, that one only has to dig a bit deeper to get behind the scenes, and to explore motivations and actual intentions often bring unexpected revelations. Deceptively engaging, even when the moments become too much, or descriptions steal your breath, the desire to return, to discover, and to see just what sort of answers can be found is never-ending. A wonderful book that should be on everyone’s ‘to read’ list, you won’t look at the world in quite the same way after.
This review is from a title in my own personal library. I was not obligated to or compensated for this honest review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Science Fiction /Dystopian
Published by: Anchor, Houghton Miffllin/Harcourt
Published on: 16 March, 1988
Audio Length: 11 Hours
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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...