Book Reviews

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale is a haunting story of a dystopian future, that seems more plausible by the day.

What is the Handmaid’s tale about:

The dystopian novel is set in a totalitarian Christian society which has overthrown the government, and created an all ruling patriarchy. The likes of magazines and flashy clothing were all destroyed as vanity was no longer deemed necessary, and the rulers thought people were better off to live in a world free of those temptations. To combat declining fertility rates, some women as assigned to households as “Handmaids” in the hopes of bearing children.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood book cover

The story follows, Offred – which is Of Fred because Handmaid’s are not permitted go by by their birth names but instead by the patriarch in the family they are assigned to.

Offred details her time as a handmaid where her sole purpose is to reproduce – if she fails to do so she will be executed. She also offers us insights into her life before the revolution happened. She had a husband, a daughter, a job, rights; she had the things that women spent generations fighting for stripped away in an instant.

What I thought:

All good dystopian novel’s create a world somewhat reminiscent of ours, and actually isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. It presents a caricature of our world. Do I think it’s likely governments are going to be taken down to be replaced to by backwards cults seeking to strip women of all rights and body autonomy? It’s highly unlikely, but still a terrifying prospect. What really struck me was you can fight for and win your rights but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be there forever. You still have to fight for and maintain them even once they’ve been won. Just take a look at Bermuda repealing same-sex marriage.

Like Only Ever Yours  or Asking for It this wasn’t a nice fluffy read. It was an important one. I can actually see a lot of where Louise O’Neill got the inspiration for Only Ever Yours from The Handmaid’s Tale.

Offred wasn’t the strong empowered protagonist we would hope for in this type of novel. Moria was the take-no-shit master-of-my-own-fate character of the story but she didn’t have a very prominent place in the overall plot of the book. Offred isn’t happy about being a handmaid and misses her old life but she doesn’t do much about it. She doesn’t get heavily involved when Ofglen introduces her to the fact that not everyone is a “true believer”. Her disillusionment increases towards the end when she almost starts to feel that she has a life in her household. It really hurt to see Offred essentially go backwards as the book went on. Maybe that was the point, maybe systematic oppression just breaks women down? Maybe it’s a cautionary tale?

Isn’t it telling that her real name wasn’t even Offred yet we never find out what it is?

Regardless, I was completely absorbed in this and would definitely recommend The Handmaid’s Tale.

If you like the Handmaid’s Tale you might also enjoy Only Ever Yours, and Animal Farm.

The Handmaid's Tale illustration

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