Handmaid's Tale, The
The Republic of Gilead, the name given to the society that was once America, is a place ruled by a shadowy government of religious fanatics who have imposed their values by terror and lies. Women no longer have access to the things they once took for granted, like a job, money or even literacy. In this new construct there exists a strict hierarchy, and within that hierarchy perhaps the strangest and most precarious role is that of Handmaid. The narrator of this tale is the Handmaid Offred, a woman who once had a life and a family, but is now reduced solely to her biology: she is a walking set of sexual organs whose sole reason for existence is to give birth to a child who will then be given to the family of a high ranking political official, to be raised within the new system.
Offred۪s story is told through observation, perception and intuition. As a woman, she is not privy to direct information of any kind, but must glean what she can from other women, who may or may not be trustworthy. This method of storytelling is particularly effective, as it only reveals things in brief glimpses, evoking the very feelings of confusion and loss that Offred is experiencing. Atwood has always excelled at conveying the inner turmoil of her characters, something I first noticed when reading Cat۪s Eye. She is a master of highlighting the nameless feelings that make up so much of our existence and creating a narrative from the bare bones of seemingly trivial observations.
The events of The Handmaid۪s Tale are presented as a reconstruction, and thus Offred is an unreliable narrator. However, this is unimportant; it is not the events so much as their emotional and personal impact that truly matter.
One of the most frightening and subversive elements of the story is not revealed until the end, in the Historical Notes epilogue. It is revealed that it was not until the nations of the world had signed the Spheres of Influence Accord that these things were able to happen. In other words, it was not until world peace was declared that the U.S. was able to turn it۪s fury on its own inhabitants and create their rigidly controlled state.
It is these elements, the personal and the ephemeral, in combination with a frighteningly plausible vision, that gives this book so much power and makes it, for me, a 5-star read.
I had wanted to read this book for a very long time and when I saw that it was being made into a series or miniseries for television I thought I should give it a try before it aired. I will be brutally honest that I found it hard to read with the way it was written. It felt like I was reading this book for a report. I had to force my self to pick it up and read it. But once I got 3/4 of it done, I grew more attached to the characters and wished the book was longer. I will say I did not care for the ending because the story just kind of trails off and you are wishing the author wrote at least another chapter.
To explain the premise of the book is terrifying. All women no longer have rights and are seen just as baby making machines. The women who are at their fertile age are assigned into a family and forced to have sex with the male during peak fertile cycle. It is very awkward. You will have to read the book to know what I am talking about. If they do not produce a child they are assigned to other unpleasant jobs in the society. The women even lose their names and take on the name of the male in the family ... ofglenn, ofwarren, offred, etc. It is very demoralizing. I am glad that I did finish the book, and hope you will give it a chance too.
The thing you need to read before we enter Donald Trump's America, no matter how you feel about the election results, or abortion. Written so damn well. I've never read Margaret Atwood before and felt pretty ashamed by it and damn was this a mistake.
Note: I've written longer thoughts about this for Scribd, but they haven't been posted yet.
Overall: Oh, it's playing in the same ballpark as The Hunger Games. Or rather... you know.... the other way around.
The same applies for this book. The reading experience was not pleasant for me. The writing is the factor here that ruined everything. There's no proper use of punctuation, such as quotation marks for speech between characters. I have to read a sentence multiple times to figure out whether it is something said by a character or just the narrator's own thoughts. Many times the flashbacks of the past and the present were way too abusively intertwined, lacking a proper transition from the one to the other. I have never read any book with such crappish writing. The writing was absolutely distracting and hindering the reading process in all possible ways. It was later revealed (in the epilogue) that the story was a transcription from recording tapes, and that the order of the tapes were just composed by professors, but this explanation for the unusual writing style does nothing to me. I don't care about the reason why the writing HAD to be crappish, it has already contributed to a bad reading experience and this cannot be undone.
Another factor that was in the back of my mind the entire time reading this book and that at times would jump to the foreground is the historical context of certain aspects of the society. Basically, the story of the book revolves fully around Handmaids. The entire existence of the occupation of the Handmaids is solely for reproductive purposes, because of declining births at the time due to sterility from pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. The Handmaid is kept at the house of a Commander, a high-ranking official, whom she has intercourse with during "the Ceremony", a ritual at which his Wife is present. When the Handmaid gives birth to a baby, the child will be the Commander's and his wife's, and the Handmaid will be transferred to another Commander to try again. If the Handmaid does not succeed in getting pregnant after three assignments, she will be exiled to the Colonies where they will die a horrible death.
The first thing that pops in my mind is In vitro fertilisation (IVF), a process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body. This treatment is common knowledge now, many women consider it, including celebrities. I happen to know people from my generation whose parents chose to have them fertilised this way. With this technology all the problems in The Handmaid's Tale wouldn't exist now or in the future. There wouldn't be women feeling degraded to be a tool, a "two legged womb", there wouldn't be wives having to bear the indignity of another women having sex with her husband in her presence, no men have to perform an embarrassing and humiliating act of fucking another women in front of his wife. No such problems would exist at all and the baby would be truly The Commander's and his wife's. Not of him and another woman. And if one of them is sterile, donor eggs or sperm would solve the problem.
Also, there wouldn't be the need of an outsider secretly impregnating the Handmaid, as it is a common event in the story. For instance, the medical doctor doing the check-up offered his 'services' to the main character to help her get pregnant as time is running out for her, and the Wife arranged the family's chauffeur to have sex with her for the same reason. In both cases it is claimed that the Commander will never know the baby is not his. Another thing that immediately pops in my mind would be DNA. It is impossible this present day and certainly in the future to get away with a baby that is not his just like that.
I know the book was first published in 1986 and it would be unfair to judge the material in the current context with the scientifical advancement made in the last thirty years. But I can't help doing that, the problems mentioned in the story just sound ridiculous now. I can't blame the author for not foreseeing the current scientific possibilities, but dystopian societies in speculative fiction should be convincing in one point: it must include situations that COULD happen given the right circumstances. But none of the main aspects of the society in The Handmaid's Tale could ever happen in the future. And this bugs me, because I find myself rolling my eyes at many of the situation the narrator finds herself in and think: gosh, this is so medieval. The story is supposed to take place in the future, in a period where people in the year 2195 (in the epilogue) would look back at, but is in many ways too much bound to the context of the eighties in which the book is written. Dystopian fiction should instead be timeless and the situations be applicable to any context in the history, present and the future. The author failed in this aspect.