This book has been on my reading list for a long time, since reading The Penelopiad in a first year uni module, back in 2014. Its taken me three years to get around to it, but I have finally read the book. Now I feel I can start on the TV show!
The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written in 1985, by Margaret Atwood. In the USA, a wave of totalitarianism has swept over the land, creating a place where some women are used as “Handmaids”, an odd kind of surrogate to those in power. This new world is called Gilead. Many women have been left sterile due to pollution levels (it is implied that the rest of America outside the confines of the novel- “The Colonies”- is barren and toxic, with those living in these areas suffering some kind of radiation sickness where the extremities and even the skin peels away), and STDs. The world inside the borders of what I suppose is a large compound where the characters of the novel live (at least as big as a city), and is a strange echo of a literal reading of the Old Testament views on women. Many references are made to the biblical, but in the most fanatical ways. Women are not allowed to have their own money, read, and modesty is a must. Offred, the protagonist and narrator, vaguely remembers a time before this came to pass, before she had to become a Handmaid. There are implications that outside the world she lives in, war between the fanatics who run the compound, and other religious and social groups, is still raging. Offred knows she has another name from this past, but never mentions what exactly it is. Her memories are brief and fragmented, so that as a reader you understand she had a partner called Luke (previously divorced, and under this new law divorce doesn’t exist, making Offred an adulteress), a feminist mother, a friend named Moira, a young daughter, a rigorous academic education (she often remembers things she learnt in past times), and a job which required a knowledge of technology. We understand that as things worsened in society (all women’s bank accounts were closed and the women laid off of work, the money in the accounts being transferred to the next male of kin), Luke, “Offred”, and their daughter attempted to escape across the borders. Luke was shot (it appears, we have no idea if he is dead or alive), Offred captured and forced to become a Handmaiden, and her daughter taken somewhere else.
There’s all the background you need to know. I want to leave the finer points and weirder little things, and of course THE ENDING, for you to discover yourself. There aren’t any major spoilers above, but from this point on, there will be. There are a few things about this novel, a few messages in it, which I think are very important. Grab a cuppa, because this is a long review/discussion. Skip to the last one if you don’t have time. Anyone who has also read this, please chip in below and let me know what you thought: Continue reading