So, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re looking for an adjective-heavy “proper” review, this is not that. This is a subjective review of a book I enjoyed reading for reasons outside the book itself too.
Since I gave away my book collection last year, which I had unconsciously kept since adolescence, I’m looking for somewhere to document what books I’ve read before I pass them on to friends. I’ve no grand writing/literary ambitions in doing this — it’s all too much pressure to write for a bigger purpose, I’ve found. This is why when I write blog posts about books, I’ll only write for the hour, typos and style be damned.
So here goes…
Written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel about the role of enforced surrogate mothers, or more aptly, ‘surrogate vessels’ in totalitarian Republic of Gilead. Our story is set in what was formerly known as Maine in the US, if you go by the book. In the near future there is no United States of America, there is only Gilead, an authoritarian, religious regime.
The story centres on the life of Offred, a newly-named young woman whose real name we never get to know. Offred’s sole purpose in life, along with the other handmaids in this morbid society, is to get pregnant so that the population can thrive. Like Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother is watching; The Eyes, in this novel. Everything except complete submission to the regime is treason. But can Offred let go of the life she had before the regime took hold? And what of her life before? Her child, her husband, her mother – what role do they possess in this regime and where are they now?
I was on the fence about reading this novel. I thought its expected bleak tale of male authority and powerlessness in women would rattle me. “Oh I don’t know. It’s a little depressing for me right now,” I’d say, remembering how scarily deep I jumped into Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home. Three weeks ago though, I bit the bullet and went out to buy it. I can stop reading it if it gets too much, I rationalised.
First impressions: it’s so easy to read and not at all heavy if you prepare for the worst – my mind definitely conjures up THE WORST in these instances because the story was surprisingly manageable. Of course, there are moments in the book, like the Ceremony and the Salvaging, that are hard to forget… but I couldn’t put it down.
What I enjoyed most about the book is how much there was to imagine about how life could be — if that makes sense? It’s so far-fetched but so realistic too, I don’t know how both can be at the same time. And with Trump’s isolationist ways and news like this it’s hard not to think of a story like this being possible in our near future.
I shudder at the thought.
Anyway, I recommend it. I’m giving my copy to my friend Darragh, who I hope will pass it on to someone else when he’s finished with it.
My next read is Matt Haig’s newly published How to Stop Time. I went to Chapters on Parnell Street a few hours ago to pick it up. I was expecting a memoir of sorts, like 2015’s Reasons to Stay Alive, which I loved, but this book is a fiction. We’ll see what it’s like.
Until the next time!