"The Handmaid's Tale"

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This book was a surprise of the best kind. I had no real interest in reading it, because I thought Margaret Atwood was a writer who would be over my head. I chose it for the Canadian Book Challenge thinking I could then cross it off both the Canadian list and my guilt list. I am happy to say it was a fascinating story.

Dystopian novels seem all the rage at the moment. I didn't even know what they were till I picked this one up. I looked up "dystopian" and found it defined as "a time in the future when everything is as bad as possible". Based on that definition, I have just read my first dystopian novel!

It's a brilliant and complex story that illustrates how our freedoms are lost when we begin to deny personal equality and allow the state to decide what we will do and who we will be. It is a warning that we must exercise our personal freedoms and never start down that slippery slope of trading those freedoms for security. I got angry at our stupidity as a society, and then more than angry at the carelessness with which men treated women. I hope everyone who reads it gets angry too. This is a cautionary tale we would do well to heed.

Offred, the main character, is a Handmaid. She was once a wife and mother but when the family tried to escape an increasingly oppressive society  her husband was shot and her daughter taken by the government. She has no choice now. Her status has been decided for her.

Handmaids wears red, Wives wear blue, Marthas (housekeepers) wear green. These positions are chosen for each woman by the government and wearing the required colors identifies your position to the rest of the world. The Handmaids job is to bear children for her Commander and his wife. Once her childbearing days are over she is sent to the colonies where all useless members of society go. They don't live very long there.

The author has an incredible imagination; she has created a society, beyond any I have ever read or thought, in this book. Details of the character's lives and the deterioration of their free society unfold as the story goes back and forth between Offred's old life and her life now as a Handmaid.

At the risk of sounding slightly over-the-top, I was stunned and almost mesmerized by this story. I have to read more of Atwood's books now. Due to some explicit sexuality I'd only recommend this one to adults, but I hope you find it as irresistible as I did. (I really wanted to say "gripping" there instead of "irresistible" but I just found it on a list of "words you must never use in a book review".) Wait. If I give in to that is it the first nudge down the slippery slope?  I'm going to wave my freedom-of-speech banner and say: It was GRIPPING!

This is my third book for the Canadian Book Challenge.


Donna said...

I have come across this book numerous times; but never got around to finding out what it's actually about. Your review is very clear. I have to read this book; and will no longer retreat when I see the word, "dystopian."

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