The Handmaid’s Tale – by Margaret Atwood

22 05 2018

I haven’t seen any of the TV show, but the premise sounded interesting enough to give it a go, and I’m *mostly* glad I did.

The book focuses on a society where due to some war or radiation poisoning or something, most women are infertile, and so couples often take a woman into their home to conceive a child for them. These women dress head to toe in red other than their white caps to hide their hair, they are not known by their real names, and live a minimal existence – they’re seen as above the servants, but definitely below the wives. Society is such that all reading is illegal, any beautifying is not permitted, and the Handmaids are not allowed to chat, talk or communicate with each other beyond greetings and goodbyes really. It’s not just the handmaids who are uniformed though – wives dress all in blue, servants in green (I think!)

I found the introduction by the author fascinating. She said that when writing the book (in the 1980s) she decided that she didn’t want anything happening in the book which had not already happened somewhere in history. This is bizarre when the novel sounds completely dystopian, but she gives the examples of Jacob and Rachel in the Bible: “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”” – Genesis 30 vv 1-3.

Through the whole book we never learn our lead characters name. She talks us through life in the household of the Commander and his wife, whilst giving flashbacks to “normal” life several years before, before everything changed, and everything in between.

The author had a really odd way of only using quotation marks for dialogue when it was “present day”, so all the memories shared, which is a good proportion of the book, take a while to get used to – working out what’s narration and what’s dialogue!

The only bit I didn’t like about the book was the ending, I won’t give things away other than to say it was wholly unsatisfying – a real shame when the rest of the book was so strong!


**UPDATE**
I was talking to a friend of mine after posting this and saying how I didn’t like the ending. She asked if I’d read the epilogue. I asked what epilogue?
It turns out that the “Historical notes” at the back of the book which I chose to skip is actually an epilogue and part of the story…! A bit more satisfied now.

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2 responses

25 05 2018
Toni

The Jacob and Rachel quote shows a complete failure to understand culture, and instead to reinterpret it with a 20th century understanding, but I guess that’s what makes it a stronger and more unsettling story.

8 06 2018
30 before 30 – the results | ineke.co.uk

[…] The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood COMPLETED 22nd May 2018 […]

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