Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now… (Description from Goodreads.)
The Handmaid’s Tale is a hard book to like, but an easy book to love. It’s terrifying, it’s beautifully written, it’s a dystopia that doesn’t feel that far off from becoming real. It’s like a shot of whiskey that burns your throat, but once it settles in your stomach you enjoy it. It’ll also make you want to get your ass off the cozy couch you were just reading on and march in the streets to prevent it from ever becoming reality. I read this story as a warning: if we stay complacent, here’s what can happen. So we better get moving!
Atwood’s writing is so good it makes the story almost dream-like. Despite the horrifying plot, the lyrical prose made it hard to put the book down even when I felt like I couldn’t take anymore. Here’s an example:
You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter.
See? That’s why it’s an easy book to love. Towards the end, it read a little slow before the final few events, but I think the pacing had a purpose. We are lulled into a slow rhythm just like Offred, and then we are shaken awake by the absurdity and horror of life in Gilead once more.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a great read for anyone who loves dystopian novels, great writing, or needs a kick in the pants to get politically active. And as always, in any fight:
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
I was surprised to hear Margaret Atwood hesitate to call The Handmaid’s Tale feminist in her interview with Time. She’s right that people define feminism differently, but to me, The Handmaid’s Tale was unquestionably feminist! Do you think the book is feminist?
What did you think of the ending? Do you have any theories for what happens to Offred after the book ends?
Have you seen the Hulu series of The Handmaid’s Tale? How do you think it compares to the book?
Comment your thoughts below!