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Fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: To breed.

The Handmaid’s tale is another dystopian social sci-fi, where all rights of women are obliterated. Women are deprived of work and bank accounts, not allowed to read, confined to breed. Moral righteousness is installed, adulterers are hanged, piety is expected, women are expected to be shrouded in long gowns and long sleeves, lipsticks, high heels, lingerie, women magazines, cigarettes..(you get the idea)…. are all things of the past. Women no longer has a name but takes over the first name of the man, Ofwarren, Ofglen etc. And they are watched over by the Aunts, Aunt Lydia and Aunt Elizabeths and wait upon by the Marthas.

Offred used to have a name, a lover named Luke and a daughter, but have lost all of them when the Guardians came for them. She is moved to the Red Centre together with Alma, Janine, Moira and must obey the house rules of the Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, if they want to continue to live. If she deviates, she will be hanged at the wall, like many of those she saw on her every day shopping trip, or sent out to die slowly in the colonies.

But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire. Offred was summoned to the Commander’s office to amuse him, and was instructed by Serena Joy to produce an offspring with the loyal chauffeur of the Commander Nick. Offred’s future now hinges on the two men who will decide her fate.

Having read 1984 by George Orwell not too long ago, I can certainly see where Atwood drew her inspirations from. The protagonist lives in the same repressive state in fear of being heard, in a world where Quakers are hanged, and people disappear into the night in a black van if suspected of being a dissident etc.

Bible verses are often quoted:

For lunch it was the Beatitudes. Blessed be this, blessed be that. Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blesses are the merciful. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the silent. I knew they made that up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out too, but there was no way of checking. Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Nobody said when.

Ratings: 3/5

I wouldn’t recommend this book for light reading. It is actually very chilling and disturbing. There are scenes which describes a cross between a rape and fertilisation, perversion of a gynaecologist offer, or female organs mutilation, which I find very disturbing and uncharacteristic of Atwood’s work. Then again what do I know? I haven’t read any of Atwood’s man booker prize’s winning books yet. The story goes back and forth between present and the past. The present involves tiptoeing between defying the house rules and getting caught, the past about her life with Luke and her mother, who is send to the colonies as punishment. With a depressing theme, it is hard to expect a perfect ending for doomed characters.

Having said that Atwood is an accomplished writer. In this microcosm society she created, Atwood has addressed the common issues experienced by women e.g. infertility, the pride of pregnancy, child birth, miscarriage, still born, desire, illicit relationship, mistresses etc. The lesson to determine to live and to find hope in the midst of despair.

Very bold, borderline blasphemous and disturbing read. I got to read something cheerful after this.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

11 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  1. I haven’t read this for many years. But reading your summary now, it kind of sounds like the Taliban…

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | December 28, 2009, 2:01 am
    • Hi Jill, it does sounds like it, doesn’t it?

      The bit of the story about using the women’s body as a vessel and subject to any man’s use to breed is probably worse than Taliban.

      Posted by JoV | December 28, 2009, 9:06 pm
  2. I read this a few years ago too but you seem to have captured the disturbing nature that I recall. I’ve been tempted to read YEAR OF THE FLOOD which was her title released this year however you remind me how dark dystopian tales can be. Not sure I’m up to it but I’ll think about it.

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | December 28, 2009, 2:07 am
  3. Good Review. I’m still really in two minds about if I want to read this book. I don’t think it will be an enjoyable read however can’t always read nice stories some books you read for the experience.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | December 28, 2009, 11:06 am
    • While posting this before going to bed late last night, I thought I should downgrade it to 3, instead of 3.5.

      Bernadette,
      I don’t mind dark dystopian tales, but it is about the oppression of women that I find very disturbing. I also tend to avoid of all true stories of how women are deprived of their basic rights in some cultures.

      Jessica,
      You don’t miss much if you skip this book. However the work of Atwood I read earlier this year “Wilderness Tips” was a delight, see:
      https://bibliojunkie.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/wilderness-tips-by-margaret-atwood/

      Don’t give up on Atwood yet. She has lived 7 decades, much to learn from her. But I’ll make sure I’ll choose a better work of hers in the future!

      Happy New Year to you both! I wish you a lovely, great reading year 2010! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | December 28, 2009, 9:03 pm
  4. Interestingly I did not find the book as disturbing as you did. And I also don’t remember any female organ mutilation! (which one was that?) I’ve read a few non-fiction books on oppressed/abused women, some I almost couldn’t stand, so this one being fiction I found it rather mild.

    I read that the book was banned somewhere sometime because it sort of implies Islamic society, with the veil and polygamy. (I didn’t think that way until I read the article)

    I wonder what I’m gonna think about 1984, since I read The Handmaid’s Tale first. Seems like most people read 1984 first.

    Posted by mee | April 10, 2012, 10:49 pm
  5. Interestingly I did not find the book as disturbing as you did. And I also don’t remember any female organ mutilation! (which one was that?) I’ve read a few non-fiction books on oppressed/abused women, some I almost couldn’t stand, so this one being fiction I found it rather mild.

    I read that the book was banned somewhere sometime because it sort of implies Islamic society, with the veil and polygamy. (I didn’t think that way until I read the article)

    I wonder what I’m gonna think about 1984, since I read The Handmaid’s Tale first. Seems like most people read 1984 first.

    Posted by mee | April 10, 2012, 11:01 pm
    • Mee,
      There probably is. But because it is a library copy I don’t remember where it is anymore. Perhaps it’s implied. 1984 is thousand times better than The Handmaid’s Tale, so give it a go. 1984 is in a league of its own. I love it!

      Posted by JoV | April 11, 2012, 8:07 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood « Bibliojunkie - April 16, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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