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

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Handmaid’s Tale”

  1. I’m so glad you liked The Handmaid’s Tale 🙂 It’s such a scifi/dystopian classic. And, I completely agree with you in re 1984 about the rats. Have you read Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, or the more recently popular series Hunger Games or The Divergent series? I’m looking forward to your Outlander review.

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    1. I’ve read all of those but Brave New World, and that’s on my to-read list! Dystopian novels have been some of my favorites since I discovered the Uglies series in middle school. I’m glad you’re enjoying my reviews. Have you read Outlander yet? I’m hoping to get around to posting about it by Thursday.

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      1. I have Outlander but haven’t read it yet. I’ve seen a few episodes of the tv show which I’m enjoying quite a bit. Honestly, I love a good, long, and wordy series, like Game of Thrones, but I usually drag my feet until I start reading. I’m sure I’ll read it someday soon 🙂

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      2. Outlander did remind me of Game of Thrones quite a bit at first, and I do like them both. I also tend to get started pretty slowly with a long series, so I definitely understand that. The Outlander tv series follows the book really closely, so if you like one you should definitely like the other. Happy reading!

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