Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Most girls love a good book - whenever they get a moment to actually sit down and read. Brighton Girl even has its own book club encouraging the literature lovers amongst them to take the time to read and spend a few hours each month talking about what they thought. It won’t be long until our other cities have them too.

And for the girls who want to read but aren’t too sure what to read, this Bristol Girl, Florence Edwards, has got a glowing review for a book you may want to pick up.

Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Dystopian

Synopsis

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. One of the few remaining fertile women after radiation poisoning, she is ‘gifted’ to one of the high-ranking Commanders of the regime. Subject to an uber-controlling, militarised rule, she fights to survive without forsaking her free will and capacity for passion – in a world where love has become surplus to function.

Review

First Impressions

Reading Atwood’s introduction to the 2017 edition of the book, I knew immediately that it was going to be difficult to put down.

‘…is the Handmaid’s Tale a feminist novel? If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimised they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings – with all the variety of character and behaviour that implies…then yes.’

It is clear from the beginning that Offred’s world, though fictional, has a sharp edge of reality. Atwood doesn’t include any technology we don’t already have, and many events in the book are inspired by true history. This gives the dystopian future of the novel a chilling plausibility.

Plot

The Handmaid’s Tale proves that a book can provide a richness of meaning, arguments and warnings, yet remain an entertaining story. I found it took a while to get used to the sense of claustrophobia - the dialogue is quite limited and we spend a lot of time in Offred’s creative yet haphazard thoughts.

However, the uncertainty this creates made me just keep on turning pages, wanting to wrap my thoughts around this strange futuristic world. I was utterly transfixed right up until the final chapter, which is (no spoilers I promise!) one of the most inventive endings I have ever read.

Characters

Personally, I found the complex, ambiguous characters the most addictive aspect of the story. We share Offred’s perspective alone, making readers as bewildered as she is as she tries to separate friend from foe. Trying to figure out each character’s histories and motives, with only tantalising snippets of information, is a major source of intrigue.

Writing Style

You know a book is brilliant when you Google it and it’s elevated to a status of being ‘discussed’ rather than ‘reviewed’! The literary credentials of The Handmaid’s Tale are obvious and really help immerse readers in the bleak dystopian world - which pulls zero punches in its warning against human complacency.

Read this book. It feels like more than literature - it’s ammunition.

Favourite Quote:“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.”

Read If: You like the sound of a powerful, gripping and disturbing dystopian.

Made Me Think: In the extreme patriarchal, theological society of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Gileadean regime seems to have gone to great pains to undermine female solidarity. Women are encouraged to resent each other, foster jealousy and fight for positions of relative but limited power over one another.

Surely, if such a society is determined to repress female solidarity, Atwood may be suggesting it is something powerful and threatening to oppressive regimes. What an inspiring thought!

What the Bristol Girls Thought!

I asked the Bristol Girl Book Group for their thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale:

“The most interesting part of the book for me is how it explores this idea that the role of a woman is primarily to have children/be a mother. Obviously this is taken to an extreme in the story but actually, I really think this still such an expectation and reality.”

“Many people consider it odd or wrong if a woman does not want children, or that a woman can only live a fulfilling life if she is a mother.”

“This is a perfect example of how Atwood uses fundamental ideas drawn from reality and amplifies them to create such a terrifying dystopian world.”

“I remember reading this in college and was both fascinated and horrified by the group execution scene - so visually described.”

“I think the nameless protagonist was my fave character - it’s so powerful to feel like you are fully within her thoughts and experiences.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale is my favourite book! I could read it again and again - I always find new things and discover different parts of the story.”

“I’ve just finished reading this! It was chilling. I can’t bring myself to watch the series!”

Side Note: There is a Channel 4 T.V. series of The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood was very involved as a consulting producer so it really does justice to the book. Here the age-old book vs film/tv debate doesn’t apply, as both are brilliantly addictive. Prepare to binge!

Written by Florence Edwards


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