Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

PAPERBACK; 324 P.
VINTAGE CLASSICS, 2010/1985
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She has only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story’ – Angela Carter

Perhaps considered as a modern classic, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel centering around a first-generation handmaid. Set in the future, the USA has transformed into the Republic of Gilead where the society has taken a step back to the past. The birth rate of the society is low, so the government has issued handmaid’s to aid women who cannot give birth. The protagonist of the story, Offred, is defined by her body and evaluated by her ability to breed. The women in her position are powerless and invisible, but still despised by the wives. For the men, they are merely objects of reproduction and desire.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful book without there being much action. The narration is subdued, almost like the handmaid itself, and this silence speaks louder than the actual events of the book – it makes the oppression feel truly suffocating. What makes the book so unique and relatable is the fact that Offred had been “one of us”; she has experienced the change from one system to another and suffered the loss of freedom. Atwood uses the phrase “Context is all” frequently to highlight how even the smallest everyday actions can carry meanings. The narration of the novel has a jumping timeline so that as the story progresses, we also get a glimpse of how the society transformed.

Though the overall story of The Handmaid’s Tale was not entirely my cup of tea, I definitely want to read more Atwood. Her writing is simply stunning and I was highly impressed by this novel. It explored the society and human kind deeply and profoundly as well as discussed the status of women throughout history. It is definitely “not your stereotypical dystopian book” like MarlinElina said. Marlin posted a great video where she discusses the thoughts raised by this book, and I highly recommend that you watch it (it contains some spoilers, though). I was also recommended to watch the movie adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale by Alexandra from Diverses et Avariées, so I might do a separate post about movie adaptations as I have quite a few I want to discuss.

To conclude my review, I can say I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale – especially to people who enjoy reading dystopian books.

4.5/5

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.”

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. I remember reading it in one sitting the first time. I was just blown away by what I was reading, and was impressed by the writing style. The second time, it felt less mind-blowing, but I still greatly enjoyed the novel. Studying it helped perceive things I didn’t notice, and put it into perspective – in the context of the 1980s more particularly. I am eager to know your opinion on the film: as I said, it is probably not the best of adaptations, but it casts an interesting light on The Handmaid’s Tale. It is always hard to adapt a one-person narrative.
    Which of Margaret Atwood’s other novels are you tempted by? :). I would love to dive into The Blind Assassin!

    • I agree, the backdrop of the 80s and the fear/hopes for the future make an interesting context. I really hope to get round watching the film soon so that we can talk about it 🙂 As for the next book, I have Alias Grace (in German translation, no less) on my shelves, but I think I too would pick The Blind Assassin next – the premise sounds intriguing!

  2. Looks so promising…
    ” Her writing is simply stunning and I was highly impressed by this novel. It explored the society and human kind deeply and profoundly as well as discussed the status of women throughout history.” Ah,good! I wouldn’t expect any less from her!
    I want the book in Folio edition,so I’m waiting till it goes on sale.However I might even buy it at full price,because I really want it!
    I believe your next Atwood will most probably be Blind Assassin! I heard it’s huge,but I surmise it’s an excellent book as it won the Booker!
    Hmm,and before you do your review of movie adaptations,you can watch the movie of the Virgin Suicides! Many say that the movie is better!

    • It is, you should definitely read it! I think you’d enjoy her writing 🙂
      And I will definitely add The Virgin Suicides to my movie adaptations review once I get round to watching it. My to-be-watched list is quickly expanding 😀

  3. This is an excellent book. The dystopian theme is immensely eerie and haunting. I read it for the first time this year and was amazed by the narrative style. My favourite part was the historical notes at the end, which completely surprised yet made the novel a whole lot more creepy. In fact my blog Feminism Through Cinema and Literature (http://ftcal.wordpress.com/) is exploring the feminist themes of Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, coming soon. Be sure to check it out.

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that the ending presented an interesting view on the story itself. I hope to read your thoughts on the themes of this novel soon! 🙂

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