67. THE HANDMAID’S TALE, BY MARGARET ATWOOD
Another recommendation from Michelle. Well, kind of, she just said Margaret Atwood; I’ve had this book on my to-read pile for some time now, and I thought it was about time I got to it.
Synopsis: In a dystopian future where Old-Testament Bible morality is law, strict rules control every behavior and women have become property. Because of a decline in fertility and scriptural precedent, Handmaids are given to men whose wives cannot conceive. Those are women whose only value is their fertility and whose behavior is closely and repressively controlled. Offred is a Handmaid who still remembers and misses her life before the Republic of Gilead.
Overall enjoyment: FUCK. ME. Why did I not read this book before? I’m still in shock over it. It was amazing, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not dated at all, it has such gruesome and fascinating hypothesis, it’s filled with symbolism and imagery... Without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Plot: Non-linear, but not hard to follow at all. Full of suspense, it really involves you in this repressive atmosphere. I especially appreciated the epilogue that explains many details that were left obscure, ties up all the strings and also allows the reader to distance themselves from the bleakness of the rest of the narrative.
Characters: Very well constructed. We only see the secondary ones through Offred’s eyes, but, even with this limitation, they are complex and real. Offred herself (love the play with words there, you can read her name as Of-Fred or as Off-Red) is incredibly real in her “averageness”. She’s not particularly weak or strong, heroic or cowardly, beautiful or ugly; she truly could be anyone.
World/setting: It’s a feminist nightmare and, perhaps because of that, so believable. Having read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis recently, I can’t help but compare the rise of Gilead with how she tells of the rise of the extremist Islamic state in Iran: in the space of a little bit more than a year, she was forced to cover up completely, boys and girls were segregated in school and given only state-approved educations, alcohol and cigarettes were outlawed and punishable by death. Gilead is not a far-fetched threat at all, neither is the speed at which events happened.
Writing style: I couldn’t stop myself from turning the pages. It’s very fluid and involving, almost intimate.
Representation: She covers up all the bases pretty well. Could be better, but then, it would probably be a different story.
Political correctness: Again, FUCK. ME. There’s so much, I wouldn’t even know where to start. In fact, I think I still need some more time to digest this book before I can fully appreciate it. The big picture is already fantastic, but the little details, the reactions and interactions, the differences in perspective... And I just can’t stop thinking, “why didn’t I read this book before?” Why didn’t I even know it existed until I was in my 20s? And I have always been a science fiction fan, I read all of the usually recommended “dystopian classics”, like 1984 and Brave New World; WHY WASN’T THIS BOOK AMONG THEM?
Up next: The Lover, by Marguerite Duras