Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: McClelland and Stewart, 1985

Genre: Dystopian and/or speculative fiction

Book Format: Kindle

Why I Read The Book:

During a chat in The Bumbles Chat Room we agreed to read one of the books from the Banned Books list and this was it.

Synopsis:

The Handmaid’s Tale is a close-up look at a woman living in the near-future, somewhere in the United States. The president, the congress, and the constitution are all gone. In it’s place is a theocracy run along the lines of the Old Testament.

We know very little about this woman. We know only a few facts: prior to the change in government she had been married, had a daughter, friends, a job and her own money. Now all of that is gone too.

Now the woman’s existence centers around her life as a concubine to an older man named Fred. Her life hinges on her ability to be quiet, keep her head down and conceive a child. The act of conception is not lovemaking. it is strictly a sex ceremony. Nothing fun or enjoyable about it.

The reader follows the daily life of this woman through what seems like a very gray existence. There is no laughter, no music, no joy in being alive. That’s why everything in the Handmaid’s room that could be used as a tool for suicide was removed.

What I Liked:

1. I like that I liked this book. Dystopian literature is not my genre of choice. Life as depicted in this novel is so dull, bland, frightening, and restrictive. It was frustrating to read and not be able to do something. It was so believable that it affected me, even when I closed down the book. It took me to another world.

2. The writing is so beautiful that, at times, I simply read passage out loud to myself. Here’s a little quote about the difficulty the handmaids had in seeing the world, given their very restrictive uniforms.

Given our wings, our blinkers, it’s hard to look up, hard to get the full view, of the sky, of anything. But we can do it, a little at a time, a quick move of the head, up and down, to the side and back. We have learned to see the world in gasps.

What I Didn’t Like:

There were times that I felt lost. I’d stop and ask myself – What was that about? It didn’t happen often and I think it was just my inexperience with the genre.

My Rating: A-

Recommend?

Yes, to men and especially women of all ages and walks of life. Theocracies still exist today and it’s not that far-fetched to believe it can happen today. When it is suggested that the rights of one group of individuals should be curtailed for the good of the community, we’re heading down that road. When that occurs within a religious community, we are headed straight for the Handmaid’s Tale.

Commentary:

I remember very well the times during which this novel was written. It was the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was lots of rhetoric in religious circles and the media about the strides women were making, particularly in terms of education and employment. Gradually, the word feminism became evil and the idea of taking a woman away from home and family was alarming.

I remember the ideas of people like Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schafly. I recalled those times as I read The Handmaid’s Tale and I imagined Margaret Atwood listening to those ideas as well. My hunch is that Margaret Atwood said, “What would happen if these people got what they wanted? Let me show them what life would be like if we took this to the extreme.”

The ideas of woman anywhere but at home has not died down. There are still very strong forces at work in our country and around the world working to keep woman in a subservient role. The scariest part about reading The Handmaid’s Tale is that it could very well happen.

The Handmaid’s Tale is the final book in my Woman Unbound Challenge.

Check your local library for a copy of this book. The Handmaid’s Tale is still available at Amazon. (I am an Amazon Associate.)

This entry was posted in 100+ Book Challenge, A Minus Books, Awesome Authors, Book Challenges, Women Unbound and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. JoAnn says:

    Great review, Margot! I read this back in the late 80’s and have been thinking it would be worth reading again. Wish I’d bought that copy I had in my hands at the library book sale a couple of weeks ago! Haven’t seen the cover like yours before.

  2. I haven’t read this for years and years, but I do remember that Atwood was a bit hard to figure out from time to time. Still, it really affected me when I read it!

  3. Rural View says:

    I’ve always thought Margaret Atwood is an acquired taste, and I never acquired it. Actually I’m surprised you like this one. I’ve never been tempted to read it until now, but keeping in mind groups like the Taliban and radical groups in the U.S., this is still pertinent to our lives.

  4. Martha says:

    I remember reading this years ago and while I can’t say I enjoyed it (it’s really not that kind of book) I did find it powerful and it certainly made me think.

  5. Bumbles says:

    Excellent review, Margot. I really think you captured the essence of this book. The way it makes you feel – powerless – is exactly how the narrator Offred is in her new world. No wonder we connect strongly with this book, eh? I’m glad you enjoyed it. When I read it for the second time I picked up on a lot of imagery and language play that I had missed the first time around just trying to follow the plot as each layer was slowly revealed to us. Oddly enough, the few men whose reviews I have read of this or who participated in another discussion I joined regarding this book just didn’t “get” it. I think it is because they cannot relate to it happening to them.

  6. Cerrin says:

    I was supprised you liked this book. I shouldnt be supprised by you anymore though. heh.

    I remember I hated this book…but not because it was bad writing or because it was unbelievable…I hated this book because it took me to a place where this could happen. And I felt the deserate pain of the women and the anger about not being able to get them out and fix the problem.

  7. I’ve avoided Atwood’s books because I’m somewhat intimidated. I’m afraid I’d be lost through the whole thing. It sounds like I need to get over it and give one a try.

  8. Arielle says:

    Reading this review has made me want to read this book even more!

  9. Nancy says:

    I was very moved by the book when I read it some years ago. Atwood shows you how it feels to have all your power taken away and all your decisions made for you. The Handmaid becomes an “unperson.” There are still cultures where women an un-persons and this is painful to contemplate.

    One of the things that I remember about the book is that women are forbidden to learn to read or to read at all (if they learned in the past). And this was written before the Taliban forbade education for Afghan women! At some point in the book, the great longing of the Handmaid is not for food or sex or even freedom, but just to read.

  10. Staci says:

    Excellent review Margot and your words ring so true. This book scared me!!!!!!!!!!!!! But I loved it too!

  11. I read this book years ago and it has stayed with me ever since/
    Your review is so good — and it is so frightening that the ideas that it fights against still prevail in a certain segment of our society….(quite a large segment evidently)….

    I love reading your reviews and I am so happy when your review of a book I’ve read agrees with the way I think about it.

    (Which of course is why my TBR pile grows with almost every book you review positively that I haven’t read — I’m always pretty sure I’ll like it too ;>)

  12. Beth F says:

    I like Atwood okay and I liked this book just fine but for some reason I’ve never fallen in love with Atwood. Every few years, I give her a try again and end up with the same feeling: liked the book, but not crossing the line to love.

  13. Debbie says:

    We read the Handmaid’s Tale last year for one of our bookclub meetings. It led to a great discussion.
    I feel as Beth does, I like her, but don’t love her books.

  14. kaye says:

    wonderful review, I’ve added this book to my TBR. I was so sad I didn’t get to read it with you as part of the chat.

  15. candice says:

    wow! i’ve got to read this book… its been on my book group book lists before, but somehow i’ve missed it. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments too. this sounds like my fall/winter read. thank you.

  16. Anna says:

    I recently re-read this book and liked it even more than I did the first time. I think Atwood is purposefully vague at times, but it doesn’t stop you from loving the book.

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