Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Anchor Books

Summary:   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...

I have an on again/off again relationship with Margaret Atwood. When I don't like her books, I really don't like them & when I really like them, I really like them. I really liked The Handmaid's Tale. Well, maybe not liked as in enjoyed but I didn't want to stop this until it was done telling its story and when it was over, I wished I'd had more information. Atwood had finished but I wasn't ready to leave. That's no small feat as this is one of the more harrowing reads I've picked up.

So basically, Gilead is Hell and all the gods must be dead eventhough it's citizens claim the mantle of Christianity. I very quickly was swept up into the world that OfFred is existing in. It's unrecognizable as anything sane or preferential (& given that even the elite don't uniformly adhere to the rules they impose on everyone, apparently it's not). The men are sketches but none rendered deeply enough to know. The women don't fare much better because as OfFred tells us, they are forbidden to forge friendships but suspicion and fear is fostered, so it makes it difficult to get to know anyone. I wanted to know the stories of everyone OfFred encounters.

I did very much love that Serena Joy also became fettered by her own doctrine. She had to sit and be silent and an accessory with no use as the single thing this society she pushed for values, she can't fulfill. Talk about constructing & forwarding your own obsolescence. It's a sad thing to be bitter about a lot you said you wanted. Or perhaps she wanted it for some proscribed "others" and wanted to herself, be exempt.

I kept wondering about Gilead as a society. What the hell happened here? When?! How?! It didn't appear to be long in the past that the United States took this particular exit into absolute madness, as OfFred's lived in both societies. I really wanted to know not just what happened but how it happened so fast. Did they hold a public burning of the Constitution after hanging the Supreme Court justices, along with the Executive & Legislative Branches & all State Legislatures? Did they take over in all the states or is this just a 48 contiguous thing? After some of the things mentioned over the course of the book & in the epilogue, I wanted to know how fared persons of color (the Japanese visited as tourists but that didn't allay my concerns)? What happened with wider religious practice (& where did those people go)? Not all sects of Christian belief line up with the Gilead brand & this seemed like a place that Christians who didn't buy into this could exist, so the non-Christians would really be out of luck.

There's so much to say about this book but I recommend reading it for yourself. There are many things here that are discussion fodder but one thing is clear for myself, while OfFred's window into being a bipedal womb in Gilead was absolutely compelling, I need all the transcripts from the first eleven symposia on Gilead. Can I get an Epilogue to the Epilogue?!

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