Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

the handmaid's taleTitle: The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
Genre: Classics / Science Fiction / Dystopia
2007 (1985)
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pages: 324
Started: 23rd June 2017
Completed: 24th June 2017
Rating: 5/5
Summary: The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author best known for writing The Handmaid’s Tale which was first published in 1985. She has won many awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award and she has been inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. She’s written many novels, short stories, and non-fiction and her latest novel, Hag-Seed, was published in 2016 and will be released in paperback in August 2017. You can follow Atwood on twitter: @MargaretAtwood.

The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted into a TV series in 2017 and it has been renewed for a second series which will be shown in 2018. The novel was also adapted into a film (1990) and an opera (2000). I haven’t watched any of the adaptations yet but I do plan on watching at least the TV series.

I adored this novel. It’s just fantastic and I’m so glad that I’ve finally read it. It’s a masterpiece and I couldn’t find a single fault with it.

Atwood’s writing style is so immersive and you feel as though you’re living within this world that she has created. The book is written in first person which I don’t usually enjoy but it really works for this novel. Offred’s narrative voice is complex and captivating as you discover her past and how she arrived at the point where she is in the book. I also loved how Atwood revealed the history of Gilead, once the United States of America, because she uses flashbacks. I thought that this was a clever narrative choice because you’re able to understand how sudden the changes were and you also feel the same longing for the past that Offred does. The ‘revolution’ isn’t something that happened in the distant past and everyone can remember how the USA used to function and that adds an extra layer of injustice to the novel.

The characters are incredibly well written. The book focuses on Offred, a handmaid whose only purpose is to breed, as well as several other women who have different roles within society. Offred is incredible. We never know her birth name, just her slave name, and that sets the tone for the novel because while she hates this life she is resigned to it. She isn’t as defiant as some of the other characters but she does try to resist. I loved Moira, Offred’s best friend from before the revolution, because she represents everything that the new system despises and she resists completely. She’s a lesbian who is forced into the role of the handmaid and made to have sex with a man for the purpose of breeding. She’s an incredibly feisty character and through her the reader sees more of Offred’s personality. Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is such an odd character. Although she genuinely resents Offred and the monthly ritual she also tries to help Offred and she allows her small freedoms that other handmaids do not have. I liked Serena Joy’s character because it was really interesting to see how women in different roles reacted to this new world order.

The three male characters were very odd. You only see Luke, Offred’s partner from her old life, through the flashbacks and I felt as though he initially loved the idea that women were powerless. Offred mentions how he became instantly patronising after she was stripped of her job and bank account. I didn’t like his character at all even though Offred loved him. I found the Commander extremely creepy even when he started to engage with Offred as a person rather than as a “two legged womb”. I didn’t like him either. I did like Nick though. His character was interesting and his intentions were always ambiguous and that’s what I enjoyed most about him.

Finally, I’d just like to mention the ending. I had never really heard anything about this novel before so I had no idea how it would end. I’m not going to spoil it, even though most people have read the book or watched some form of adaptation, but I will say that I really loved the ending. It was unexpected but wonderfully so and it added a new layer of intrigue to the novel for me.

hagseedI would recommend this book to anyone. I think that everyone should read it because it truly is a masterpiece and it’s so relevant to how women are viewed even today.

I can’t wait to read more of Atwood’s work. If you have any suggestions as to what I should read next then please let me know! I think I’m going to choose Hag-Seed as it’s a retelling of The Tempest.


24 thoughts on “Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. If you enjoyed this one I highly recommend Suzy McKee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World (1974) — a similar theme, written a decade earlier, and I would argue, equally as powerful. And, far less known.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder how much it influenced sales. That said, there were only a few printings so you’ll probably have to snag some ugly covered version… Hopefully it’s picked up by the Gollancz Masterwork sequence. Unsure why it hasn’t — must be copyright issues.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes! The Gollancz SF Masterworks have the best covers and I love their Ursula K. Le Guin editions so they’d probably make a great job of that one too. I probably will have to settle for the awful cover but as long as I enjoy the book the cover doesn’t matter 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh wow, I think that’s the best cover I’ve ever seen in my life. What on earth were they thinking? I’ve heard of Russ’ ‘The Female Man’ but I’ve never read it. I probably should read her books because she sounds like my kind of SF writer.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I really enjoyed your review and I love that you mention the humour of the book alongside the rather dark plot. I really look forward to reading the book in the future.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I also loved The Handmaid’s Tale, and Hag-Seed was really interest especially as I hate the Temptest. I just read Hag-Seed a few weeks ago and thought it was very well done. Other Margaret Atwood I have read and loved The Robber Bride, The Penelopiad, and her the first volume of her graphic novel Angel Catbird.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this book. I’m trying to write this story I came up with that has to have this memory-like tone to it, and I keep going back The Handmaid’s Tale for an example of the writing style. I really did love this book, but seriously, don’t stop here with Atwood. Last year I read Oryx and Crake (it’s the first book in her Madaddam Trilogy) and it was just as creepy, but in a different way. My friend told me that I should check out the Penelopiad too! Hag-Seed is on my list as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, sounds like you’re writing an interesting book. It’s such a clever writing style.

      I definitely won’t stop reading Atwood. Her writing is fantastic and I need more of it in my life.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My book club just read Handmaid’s Tale! Such a fascinating read with many layers. I’m interested to watch the show, especially as i really like Elizabeth Moss and the show did so well at the Emmys.


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