The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood ~Goodreads~
Published by Vintage 1998
Paperback 320 pages ~The Book Depository~
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire- neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
After a shaky start to me reading this book, I found myself being utterly sucked into Offred’s world. I know I seem to give a high rating for the books I read but its very rare that I read a “bad” book and there’s no exception with this- its worth the five stars I’ve given it!
Atwood has the ability of grabbing hold of you within this eerie dystopian world. She’s very abrupt with her writing and every word and phrase has such a powerful meaning, even if you don’t understand it at first. It’s a book you ponder over as there’s so much to think about and understand.
Set in the near future it feels like history is repeating itself, the government is overthrown and women in society are stripped of their rights. Their jobs and wealth are taken away, everything is given to their next of kin- husbands, father’s, son’s. What sucks you into this dystopian story is the fact it could happen, all of it is possible and if anything its quite terrifying. In my opinion this is above the other dystopian books I’ve read and I certainly think the reason for this is because the situation isn’t hard to imagine, compared to other novels in the same genre with mystical creatures and advanced technology we can’t comprehend.
Like I said to begin with it takes a while to adjust to this novel but as this oppressive world is built up around you as Offred’s story unfolds. Her job, money and family taken. She is left in the hands of the Commander, the Wives, servants and other Handmaid’s that dress in red. Their sole purpose is to breed, but if they don’t the consequences aren’t what anyone wants.
Within each chapter there are flickers of hope for Offred, offers that are hard to refuse. A choice between the hard and easy way, not a decision to be taken likely in an environment of spies and untrustworthy acquaintances. There’s no point in making friends with the other Handmaid’s as you’ll never know if they’ll be there with you tomorrow or not, everything appears to be so temporary. There’s desperation in Offred, she’s lonely and misses her family- she misses being loved and intimate with someone. Being isolated an restricted to who she can and cannot talk to is so hard to fully understand and yet it is accepted as the norm.
This novel does have an ambiguous ending which has put off readers and resulted in not such a high rating from some reviewers. For me I both loved and hated that it was ambiguous, but at the same time its so fitting for it to be this way. Of course I want to know what happened with Offred, I want to know if she’s okay, whether all her struggles were worth it in the end, so yes I was frustrated that Atwood did not provide this. However, having the ending open to interpretation gives the reader a sense of hope and wonder towards Offred. It felt like in the end a connection formed, like a friendship that drifts apart. Even though we don’t know how they are, we still care and hope they’re well- this is the same of my feelings towards Offred.
A very powerful novel that I’m not going to forget and one I will return to sometime later in life.