Review: Dragonfly in Amber

This review is for the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and while I’ll try to avoid giving any big spoilers and keep this post interesting to readers at any juncture of the Outlander series, I won’t recap the events of the first book. Check out my previous post for my impressions of the first book here.

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Outlander was great, and intriguing enough that I immediately sought the second book of this series from the library, but it was Dragonfly in Amber that sparked my obsession with Gabaldon’s characters. There were some I couldn’t stand, some I wanted to live forever (even if they possessed only fictional lives), but I wanted to know everything about everyone, and this was the book that made me certain I would have to read the entire series.

About the book: Claire and her daughter, Brianna, journey to Scotland after Frank’s death and seek help with a research project of Claire’s from Roger Wakefield (the son of Frank’s friend the Reverend Wakefield from Outlander). With Frank gone and Brianna grown, Claire’s curiosity about acquaintances left behind in the 1740’s has finally pushed her to seek answers to questions she’s been afraid to ask for many years. Claire also wants to find some way to tell Brianna about the significance of the stones at Craigh na Dun, and her experiences with the past. On an expedition with Roger and Brianna to a graveyard where she encounters two markers that surprise her, Claire stops wondering how to begin and starts telling her story to both of them. She tells of living with Jamie Fraser in France, their attempt to stop the uprising of Charles Stuart from ruining the tradition of clans in Scotland, and their efforts to survive and save their friends when the fighting breaks out. Claire’s present request for Roger is to discover what happened to various acquaintances after the disastrous battle at Culloden during which Jamie sent Claire back to the future to keep her safe. The book ends with a cliffhanger discovery in the research project and an unrelated reveal about Geillis’s involvement with the stones and the past.

This book deals a lot with morals and politics (one of which is very interesting to me and one of which is generally not). There are a lot more mysterious characters in this one compared to Outlander, and more supernatural elements. Overall, it felt very different than the first book, because the challenges the characters face are very different in nature than the more basic struggles for survival in Scotland of Outlander. In all honesty, Dragonfly in Amber is my least favorite of the series of the four I’ve read so far, but Jamie and Claire’s relationship is pleasantly solid here, and and this was the book that inspired my recent Outlander obsession.

“‘If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you–then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.’ His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me. ‘Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.'”

Best aspect: Gabaldon is a master of characterization. I attributed my enjoyment of the first book largely to an interest in the fast-moving plot, but with the way that this second book is told from the future, the plot is a little less intense (we know that Claire will live, that she’ll return to the 1900’s, and that she expects from the beginning that Culloden will be disastrous), and therefore I spent more of my time through this second book appreciating all the nuances of character which are possible primarily because of the length of the Outlander books. It was even exciting to read about the return of characters I disliked because I knew that some new facet of personality was about to surface, whether through a new plot thread or a character’s internal reflection. Gabaldon creates characters that make things happen, and I think that’s why I like these books so much, despite…

Least favorite aspect: the predictability of some of the main plot points. Since the characters are so clear and consistent, nearly every moment that I’m forced to stop reading in the middle of one of the Outlander books is spent speculating the choices that they’ll make. By the second book, I knew the characters well enough to have a good idea of what they would do, minus the unforeseen circumstances that always complicate things. But as far as who’s going to time travel, which people will stay together, who can afford to die without killing the series, etc. there aren’t many surprises. Between the foreshadowing, and basic knowledge of the characters, you always know Claire will have a friend to swoop in and save her at the last minute, Jamie is resourceful and has enough disregard for his own safety that he routinely escapes certain death and finds some way to save the people he cares about at any personal cost, the bad guys are notoriously hard to get rid of, and the number of people who set out on a journey will probably not be equal to the number of people who return. So when the reader knows that a character has an important choice, the impending result is clear. That said, the split-second decisions that are explained after-the-fact, and the appearance of new and unknown characters keep things interesting. Therefore, even if you know Claire well enough to predict that she wants to travel back through the stones and has enough determination to get there, the fun is in the misadventures that inevitably befall her along the way.

About the writing: for a story so focused on time, the pace of this series is often confusing and sometimes frustrating. My biggest complaint about this book was the opening, when the narration starts describing Claire’s presence in Scotland and takes its own sweet time describing exactly what she’s looking for, and why. I do think that the story benefited from the picture it gave of Claire, Brianna, and Roger in the 1960’s, but there are a lot of unanswered questions about how we’d gotten from the end of Outlander to the events at the beginning of Dragonfly in Amber that made the first several chapters such a jarring switch that I barely had enough patience to read through it all without skipping ahead. Outlander left us on a hopeful note between Jamie and Claire, and suddenly Jamie was nowhere to be found with no explanation given. The reasons for this technique became apparent (Claire had been trying not to think of Jamie much for years, and we didn’t need to see her deciding to undertake this research project, nor would we have wanted to wait to hear about it in the aftermath of the story she tells about the Uprising), but it felt frustratingly slow all the same. In this book there were also more switches in character focus, giving us closer looks at Roger and Brianna for the first time (such occurrences become more abundant in upcoming books), which also seemed to slow down the narration in places. Overall, I didn’t think Gabaldon supplied much superfluous detail, but I did wish she had worked out some other timing technique in the writing–maybe flashbacks?–so as not to leave the reader in confused suspense for hundreds of pages. This book alternated between sprints of excitement and virtual stand-stills, sometimes without much transition between.

Overall, even though the second book of a series is almost always my least favorite, I’m still so thrilled about this one that I’d rate it above some of my top picks in other series. I’m giving 4 out of 5 stars, but strongly recommended that if you’ve read the first book already, keep going. This is the one that hooked me. Also, the second season of the Outlander tv show comes out in less than two weeks and will probably focus mostly on this book, if you need any more incentive to pick up Dragonfly in Amber.

Further recommendations:

  1. In retrospect, Dragonfly in Amber was not entirely about France, but that’s certainly the setting that stands out most to me. If you like long books about France with shifting character focus, political wars, and lots of emotion, try Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
  2. Check out my other posts on the Outlander series for more!

Coming up next: I’ll continue my Outlander series updates with Voyager, the third book, then take a break from Gabaldon. (Update: click here for the third Outlander book review!)

Happy reading, fellow bibliophiles!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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Review: Child 44

Hello, bookworms. To continue my historical fiction fascination of late, today I want to share with you something that I found particularly unique within that category: the first book of the Leo Demidov trilogy, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44. Outstandingly unexpected, everything about this book draws you in, even as it tries to push you out.

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I picked up this book in an effort to round out my reading list; I’ve been reading a myriad of historical fiction stories lately, and even though I’d say this one still fits that bill, it covers a more recent period of history than I tend to prefer. Furthermore, I rarely pick up a story heavily featuring any sort of politics, and those are certainly significant here. Although Child 44 was nothing like what I was expecting, it was also completely different than anything I’d ever read, which made it the best kind of unpredictable that a book can be.

About this book: Set in the 1950’s in Stalinist Russia, one man, calling himself Leo Demidov–I kept picturing Leonardo DiCaprio–who has risen high in the political hierarchy of the military, struggles against falling from the comfortable pedestal of power he’s grown used to. Every word and action is a matter of life or death, and either ignorance or unconscionable malice are required to keep one’s sanity. A single wrong move could ruin an entire family or network of friends, and among the citizens there are planted invisible spies and liars who provoke misbehavior only for the sake of creating more “enemies” to destroy. Leo’s entire existence is shaken as he must confront the matter of separating true friends from false ones, and righting wrongs that have been made not only legal but necessary to survival. When Leo comes into close contact with a series of child murders, he realizes that his government is not only uninterested in finding the real killer, but will refuse to acknowledge that such a man even exists–thus paving the way for the murderer to continue his killing spree indefinitely. Leo finds himself at a professional, personal, and moral crossroads that puts him in the most dangerous situations of his life and draws even his own identity into question.

“While guards were indifferent to whether prisoners lived or died, escape was unpardonable. It made a mockery not only of the guards but of the entire system. No matter who the prisoners were, no matter how unimportant, their escape made them important. The fact that Leo and Raisa were already classified as high-profile counterrevolutionaries would make their escape a matter of countrywide significance. Once the train had come to a stop and the guards had noticed the dead body caught up in the wire, a count would be done of all the prisoners. The escapees’ carriage would be identified; questions would be asked. If answers weren’t given prisoners might be shot. Leo hoped that someone would be sensible enough to tell the truth immediately. Those men and women had already done more than their share to help them. Even if they confessed there was no guarantee that the guards wouldn’t make an example out of the entire carriage.”

On Smith’s writing techniques: I began reading Child 44 with the impression that this book was a murder mystery. Even the title, referring to the first of the dead children that Leo comes across, suggests this. I can’t deny that there is a mysterious set of murderers taking place in the story. And yet, I never felt that what I was reading was a murder mystery. I think a big part of this is just the fact that Smith is a great world-builder. There’s so much careful detail about the places in which the characters find themselves and background about the rules operating in these places that they feel very real. Even more significantly, Smith writes his characters impeccably well. The point of view shifts from person to person easily, almost imperceptibly, and gives just as much depth to each. Hundreds of pages pass with this level of attention given equally to the people and places and politics surrounding Leo’s life before he even begins to piece together a case for the murders.

The plot involving the murders hardly seemed to be a driving force for me in the story at all. It was hard to pin down exactly what held my interest so strongly, since nothing even remotely good happens for any of the characters until more than 350 pages have passed. Every apparent success is abruptly revealed as a greater problem. In a book with fewer than 500 pages, that’s a significant chunk of the story the reader must pass before gaining any sense of hope for the outcome. After giving some thought to what kept me invested for so long, I determined that Child 44 was more of a story about surviving Stalinist Russia than solving a murder case. The murderer poses no threat for Leo or his wife, but it was concern for their safety, and worry about the other government agents, and indignation for the innocent citizens that kept me interested in what would happen next, even enough to check out the second book of the series, The Secret Speech. There are few characters more interesting in literature than the ones who are kicked down over and over again, and seemingly without reason, never stop getting back up. Smith has provided an array of these characters, and although I did appreciate the plot, I think this book is worth reading purely for the sake of the compelling way in which it was written.

To wrap up: There are definitely some disturbing details in this book. People are killed, tortured, starved, hunted, abused, misled, etc. and that is what made the matter of survival so emotionally involving in Child 44. You need a strong stomach for this one, but if you have that, don’t miss this series. I give 4.5 out of 5 stars. I believe there’s also been a movie made recently of the first book of the series, if you’re interested in checking that out. I haven’t watched it yet, but I always end up watching the film versions of books I’ve read.

Further recommendations:

  1. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is the only other book I can remember reading that’s set in Russia, and even though it’s nothing like Child 44, it kept coming to mind as I was reading. I love the sound of Russian names, and there are some truly beautiful places there, as well. It’s an interesting place to read about, and Anna Karenina doesn’t take as strong a stomach if you’re interested in experiencing Russia through literature but are unsure if Child 44 is the right book to start with.
  2. Although the book takes place across Europe in more modern times rather than in Russia’s past, James Patterson’s The Postcard Killers may be more interesting to readers attracted to the horrors of murder that appear in Child 44. This one is definitely a murder mystery, but I found the characters and the personal connection of the detective to the case interesting in that story in ways similar to my appreciation for the characters and plot of Smith’s book. If you’ve read either of these books, you may be interested in the other.

What’s next: I’ve posted about a few first-in-a-series books over the last few weeks that I’m thinking about following up on now that I’ve read more of the later books. These include Galbraith/Rowling’s Cormoran Strike trilogy, Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and now Smith’s Leo Demidov trilogy, and I’ll probably want to do full posts for each of the further books I’ve read so I’ll have room to talk about each story in its own right, and then compare to the series at large a little. If you’re anxious for any of those reviews, let me know and I’ll plan my posts according to interest. Otherwise, I’ll write them in the order I read them. If I post again before I’ve decided how to undertake the follow-ups project, I’ll talk about Sara Blaedel’s The Forgotten Girls, which I read with Child 44, thinking they’d be somewhat similar. They’re not really, beyond that they include murders, but I found it interesting enough to want to share.

Don’t hesitate to share any questions, comments, or suggestions you may have with me! I’d love to hear what you think, or even just what you’re reading. đŸ™‚

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: Church of Marvels

Greetings and salutations to all of you book lovers (and Spring!). If you’re looking for a new book to take outside and enjoy in this lovely March weather, this may be it. I’m talking about Leslie Parry’s novel, Church of Marvels.

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I stumbled across this treasure in a great little bookstore, and with only a moment’s consideration, bought a book I’d never heard of. Sometimes the best books are the ones that catch my eye unexpectedly and are bought on a whim, and this one did not disappoint.

About the story: Three seemingly unrelated lives (plus a mysterious baby and one twin sister) converge in this epic tale that takes place in turn-of-the (20th) century New York. Church of Marvels is the name of a Coney Island sideshow that struggles to keep its footing after a tragic fire. The characters of this historical fiction thriller show the reader what it’s like behind the scenes at the sideshow, but also along the darkest streets of New York at the darkest hours of night, and inside an insane asylum. Everyone has unspeakable secrets that tie them together, and anything is possible in this world of illusion and disenchantment.

“The boatman saw a figure on the landing. He squinted and shielded his eyes from the sun, which rose above the fog and turned everything white. There was a commotion on the grounds beyond–cracks and shouts, the thunder of horses. He would have mistaken it all for a picnic race if he hadn’t known exactly where he was heading, and if he hadn’t seen the women, wrangled and dog-bitten, bleeding on the shore. Christ, he thought–the fools were having another one of their fits…He looped the bowline around the horn, then looked up at his passenger. ‘Ready to go, chap?’ The young man nodded and lifted his trunk, turning his face toward Manhattan. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I’ve never been readier in my life.'”

On format: The narration follows each of the three main characters individually, which feels a little disjointed at first before the stories connect, but they’re all riveting, even while they’re separate. There are also a few snippets here and there of nearby characters, like the boatman from the passage I’ve quoted above; these characters are less important to the story overall, but share bits of insight and impressions that pertain to the main characters and add a wonderful depth to the narrative. The prose is similarly descriptive and blunt throughout the book, no matter which character is in focus (by which I mean that the narration is a consistent third person, not that each character has the same voice) so it’s important to pay attention to names and character details in the beginning while everyone is being established. That said, I didn’t have much difficulty keeping the characters straight, and I loved how real they seemed even though they were all so different from myself.

Content details: Although this book is set in 1895, some of the subject matter was definitely interesting to read in comparison with more modern practices and attitudes. Rules of society were different then, but it was great to think about how far we’ve come while reading about the horrifying treatment of “lunatics” at the asylum, the fates of unwanted babies, the behaviors of and reactions to transgender persons, and the struggle of extreme poverty in a large city. I think Parry did a great job writing about the past in light of more modern views on difficult subjects, so that her captivating plot was combined in Church of Marvels with strong writing that make every page of this book uniquely interesting. I give 5 out of 5 stars.

Further recommendations:

  1. If the sideshow aspect of Church of Marvels appeals to you, try Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, which is primarily set around the train cars of a traveling circus that crosses America in the 1920’s-30’s. Both of these novels depict behind-the-scenes details and a wide array of diverse characters, as well as an addicting plot.
  2. Although it’s nonfiction, Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City reads as easily as a fictional tale. Set in Chicago in the 1890’s as the World’s Fair was being constructed, details of the fair and general life around the turn of the century are mixed with the story of American murderer H. H. Holmes, who took advantage of the influx of people to the city to commit a multitude of crimes. This is a great read for anyone who’s interested in historical fiction, and I actually did read it around the same time as Church of Marvels and thought they were a great fit.

Do you have comments or recommendations for me? Please leave them below!

Coming up next: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, a historical fiction novel set in Stalinist Russia. This is the most intense murder mystery I’ve ever read, and I’m not even sure calling it a murder mystery accurately describes what’s going on in this book. Tune in later this week to find out why I found this book so compelling!

Happy reading!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Outlander

Hello, rapacious and reluctant readers alike! Today I’m sharing my take on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. I’ll talk a little about my take on the series in general, but I’ll mostly be focusing on the first book for this review.

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Although this is not a new series, it recently experienced a resurgence in popularity, and I first heard about it this winter through another interested friend. After having read the synopsis (I usually prefer not to even read the back covers of books before I read them so that I start with as few preconceptions as possible), my first impression of Outlander (and it’s sequel, Dragonfly in Amber) was that it was slow about getting started. However, I also knew before reading that people commonly have difficulty categorizing this book, which was an anomaly I had to experience for myself, so I stuck with it and I’m glad I did.

About this book: I must admit, it is practically impossible to categorize, as far as genre goes. It could fit under thriller, science fiction, romance, historical fiction (and probably more, but those would be my top choices), but the book wouldn’t be accurately represented by any single genre. Why?

Outlander opens in Scotland in 1945, just after the end of the war. The main character, Claire, worked as a field nurse on the front lines, and is visiting Scotland with her husband, Frank, on a second honeymoon/vacation to get reacquainted with a man she’s hardly seen in years. While she’s there, she visits a circle of standing stones where she is pulled through time. (Slight pet peeve: the time gap is frequently referred to as a 200 year difference, but it’s actually 202 years that Claire goes back, landing in 1743. Since the years are historically important, the rounding of those 202 years was a bit confusing at first.) Claire immediately wanders away from the stones because she doesn’t realize what’s happened, and then makes a whole slew of new friends and enemies as she fights for survival and concocts various schemes to get back to 1945, and Frank.

“In truth, [Roger] had no idea whether Claire Randall w0uld ever be all right. She was alive, at least, and that was all he could vouch for. They had found her, senseless in the grass near the edge of the circle, white as the rising moon above, with nothing but the slow, dark seep of blood from her abraded palms to testify that her heart still beat. Of the hellish journey down the path to the car, her dead weight slung across his shoulder, bumping awkwardly as stones rolled under his feet and twigs snatched at his clothing, he preferred to remember nothing.”

This quote is actually from book 2 in this series, but I think it sums up the emotions of time travel in this series perfectly.

Notes on the layout: The main reason I thought Outlander started slowly was because the premise of the book is time travel, but Claire spends a good bit of time with Frank in 1945 before the sci-fi elements of the book come into play. Later on, when Claire is struggling back to Frank, it’s nice to have some context of their lives to understand her motivation, and I didn’t really have any complaint about the pages dedicated to 1945 once I understood their significance. Another technical aspect of this book that stood out to me was the constantly shifting plot. Every hundred pages or so (there are almost 700 in the first book, and as the series goes on the books grow) seemed to have an entirely different focus than the last hundred pages. This is part of what makes the book so difficult to classify, and also why it makes such a great TV series; for those wondering, the episodes of the Outlander show follow the book very closely, and are rated R for good reason. Both the book and the TV show feature some pretty gruesome details of injury and torture in the 1700s, as well as a plethora of sexual scenes. Both of these aspects surprised me, but they ended up fitting into the novel rather well, and they were definitely easier to read about than watch on screen.

Further miscellaneous thoughts: Outlander reads like a soap opera. Old characters come back to pop up at the most convenient/inconvenient times, every time one problem is solved another one arises that takes the whole story in a new direction, and each situation is more intense than the last. Death is a constant threat in the 1700’s, but Claire uses her medical training to keep her friends alive and keep herself occupied while she’s stuck in old-time Scotland. It sounds like a beautiful and wonderful place, no matter what time you visit; that said, there’s very little leisure time for the characters to enjoy their surroundings. Claire and her companions are always doing something extreme, whether it’s running for their lives, falling in love, fighting to the death, or outsmarting ill-meaning leaders. I have to admit that as crazy as Claire’s journey seems at times, I loved and hated the good and evil characters (respectively) of this series more strongly than I have cared about any other characters in a while. It’s also interesting that an ancestor Frank was researching during their vacation turns up repeatedly in Claire’s adventures through the past, and although he looks identical to Claire’s husband, his personality is subpar, to put it mildly.

Is it a favorite? I’m currently in the third book of the series, and Outlander did take a spot on my list of top books for the last year, but I suspect the obsession will be short lived. By the time I create my list of favorites next year, Outlander will probably be out of my system. Although I am very attached to a few of the characters, I wasn’t overly impressed with the writing itself. There are some great one-or-two-line quotes throughout, but I know my reading preferences well enough to see that it’s the intense plot and love story that’s holding my attention, and once the mystery of what happens next is gone, my excitement for this series will probably have been exhausted. However, I am giving 4 out of 5 stars, and pointing out that I’m determined to making it through this series even though each book I’ve picked up so far has been around 700 pages. That’s no small commitment, and even though I’m not sure this book is a forever love for me, it’s definitely a series I can’t get enough of right now and am eager to suggest.

Further recommendations:

  1. I was strongly reminded of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones while reading Outlander, and I would definitely recommend these two series together. If you like sword fights, political power struggles, and a big cast of characters you never know whether to trust, both of these hit the mark.
  2. Time travel and romance make Audrey Niffinegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife an obvious comparison here. There’s not much of a historical aspect to Niffenegger’s book, so don’t expect any sword fights, but if it’s Claire’s epic romance you enjoy most about Outlander, you’ll probably enjoy the other Claire’s love story in The Time Traveler’s Wife as well.
  3. If you’re looking for something a little more YA, you might want to check out Kami Garcia’s and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series.There’re more fantasy elements and less focus on time travel, but if you’re looking for something a little more PG, I think there are some similarities between genres and themes here that make these a good fit if you’re not so thrilled about the sex and violence of Outlander.

What’s next: I’ll be reviewing Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels, a novel about the convergence of seemingly unrelated lives when a beloved member of a Coney Island carnival/sideshow goes missing after a tragic fire.

Questions or comments? Feel free to let me know what you think about my Outlander impressions, and include any recommendations you may have for me!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

P.S. click here for a review of the next book in this series, Dragonfly in Amber.

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Welcome, book lovers and aspiring readers! If you’re looking for novels, you’ve come to the right place. Today I want to tell you about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

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This book had been on my list of books to read for a few years, and I actually read another Margaret Atwood book I’d never heard of before I finally got around to picking this one up, but once I did I read The Handmaid’s Tale from cover to cover in two days. Not a record for me, but it stood out from the leisurely pace I’ve been taking through books lately. What was so great about it? Well…

About this book: Offred, the “Handmaid” of Fred, is the narrator of this futuristic dystopia. Under the reorganized government, Offred’s family was torn apart as they attempted to escape the country–her husband has all but vanished, assumed by Offred to be dead or placed in a new family, while their young daughter was sent to another government-sanctioned family and encouraged to forget her birth parents. Offred herself spent a few months under training of the nun-like Aunts to learn the new rules of propriety and find her place in society as a Handmaid. The Handmaids are a class of fertile women who are paired with childless families and employed for several months with the task of producing offspring for the prominent government husbands to raise with their infertile wives as the Handmaid is swept away to a new household. Failure to support the new government in every possible way results in either death or banishment to the Colonies, where citizens die slowly and with disgrace, removed from society and subject to hard work and poor accommodations. Offred is not allowed to grieve for her past. She is not allowed to use her old name. She is barely allowed to interact with other people, let along make friends or fall in love. But Atwood’s characters never fail to do the unthinkable, the unallowable, and Offred is no exception. She learns inside information from a strange, secret arrangement with Fred, stumbles across an underground network of Handmaid friendships and anti-government efforts, and finds companionship in unlikely places. Anything could go wrong, and if it did, Offred would never be heard from again.

The writing itself: Margaret Atwood is a master of the English language. Although this novel takes place in a future that has little in common with our present systems, Offred’s memories and astute observations give the prose a witty, sarcastic, and occasionally morbid tone, and the commentary on everyday objects and actions is easily relatable and intriguing. With very little knowledge of the contents of The Handmaid’s Tale, I picked up this book primarily because I was interesting in Atwood’s writing style in another book, and I was pleased to find the same quippy remarks from new and distinct characters.I would’ve enjoyed this book even if the plot hadn’t been so fascinating. It certainly had the feel of a modern classic; I have no doubt that The Handmaid’s Tale will persevere through the test of time.

On ambiguity: without giving away any spoilers, I’d like to mention that the ending of this book is possibly the most ambiguous finale I’ve ever read. I’ve grown to love stories with a bit of wiggle room at the end, but I usually don’t have much difficulty in stacking up the evidence and choosing a side.In this book, however, I had absolutely no idea who could be trusted, an it took me days to decide whether I believed Offred was being saved or whisked away to a torturous death.

“The Commander puts his hand to his head. What have I been saying, and to whom, and which one of his enemies has found out? Possibly he will be a security risk, now. I am above him, looking down; he is shrinking. There have already been purges among them, there will be more…The van waits in the driveway, its double doors stand open. The two of them, one on either side now, take me by the elbows to help me in…I have given myself over to the hand of strangers, because it can’t be helped.”

I would never give away the last sentence, but this passage is near the end of the book, and hopefully encourages you to pick up this book to judge for yourself whether Offred’s fate will be favorable…or not. I give 5 of 5 stars for this one, due to the combination of fantastic writing and incredible plot.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you already know you like Margaret Atwood, or are interested in seeing her writing style but don’t like the sound of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s plot, check out Atwood’s new novel, The Heart Goes Last. This one is also futuristic, but the world is entirely different and focuses on members of a society that voluntarily spend half of each year in prison.
  2. If you like reading about crazy dystopian governments and the citizens’ attempts to retain their old identities and freedoms, try George Orwell’s classic, 1984. I was strongly reminded of 1984 while reading The Handmaid’s Tale, although thankfully there were no vicious rats in the Atwood book. If you’ve already read either of these, you’ll probably enjoy the other.

If you have any recommendations for me, I love receiving them! I also appreciate hearing your thoughts on the books I’ve reviewed, whether you’ve already read them, or I’ve helped you decide on a book to add to or cross off you must-read list. Let me know how I’m doing, and in the meantime, I’ll keep the reviews and recommendations coming.

What’s next: I recently discovered the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and I’m so excited to share with you this intense sci-fi/historical fiction/thriller masterpiece that keeps trying to take over my life. Stay tuned to find out why I’m so conflicted on whether or not to count this series as one of my all-time favorites!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant