Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Classics / Science Fiction / Dystopia
Date: 2007 (1985)
Publisher: Vintage Books
Started: 23rd June 2017
Completed: 24th June 2017
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.
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.