Though I had never seen film or TV versions of "The Handmaid's Tale", I was aware of them. After all, Margaret Atwood's novel crept into our cultural consciousness some time ago. Out of curiosity, I was keen to read it. Co-incidentally, I saw it amongst my daughter's university books when she was thinning them out. Frances's honours degree is in American and Canadian Studies.
"The Handmaid's Tale" is commonly referred to as a "dystopian novel". That word - "dystopian" is regularly connected with "1984" and "Brave New World". It means "relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice".
The narrator is a handmaid called Offred. We never learn her real name. In effect she is the property of a "commander" called Fred and her purpose is to become pregnant by him. Society has become patriarchal - almost medieval in character. There are daily executions and fear hangs in the air like mist.
I found the novel eminently readable and I loved the clever way that past and present were interwoven. Offred is a survivor and we feel her anxieties and her loneliness. There seems to be no way out of her situation. She is trapped, relying upon small mercies to get by.
When the story's action is effectively over, an afterword section appears in which readers are jettisoned even further into the future. A conference is taking place in which academics are looking back on the dark interlude in North American history contained in the first forty six chapters. Audio cassette tapes were apparently found in a US Army footlocker - containing the handmaid's tale.
I found this device unnecessary and difficult to accept. After all, the grammar of Offred's tale had never had an obviously oral quality. It did not seem anything like a transcript.
Yes. I could have done without that end section. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Margaret Atwood's novel. Each time I returned to the book, I looked forward to getting through three or four more chapters. The vision of the future was both convincing and chilling, containing many echoes of more current times.
I conclude this short review with a fragment of the novel:-
“What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise there are only two dimensions. Otherwise you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”
I also did not see any of the TV series and after I read a bit about it I decided I did not want to see it or read the book. I have read some dystopian novels that I enjoyed. There is just something about this one that feels particularly disturbing to me. I'm glad you enjoyed the book and I am not surprised to hear that it was well written. Margaret Atwood is an excellent author. I did enjoy your review!ReplyDelete
Perhaps you will give it go after all Bonnie. It was the first work by Margaret Atwood that I have ever read.Delete
I read the book many years ago, probably when it first came out. I thought it was a great book. So when I started hearing about the television show, I read it again and wondered what it was that I ever saw in the book to begin with. It disturbed me more this time, I think because I have become keenly more aware that there are some societies that are very similar in intent. Still, I have watched the series since the beginning, mostly because my sister wants to watch it. It deeply disturbs me, but I keep telling myself that it is a story.ReplyDelete
It's funny how stories can affect us differently - depending upon when we read them.Delete
Yes I can only echo Bonnie. Never read or seen the television adaptation because it looked so miserable. Imagining dystopian worlds might bring them into reality as well!ReplyDelete
Or - imagining them might act as a warning.Delete
I have not read the book. I did watch one of the episodes of the television series but I found it so bleak and disturbing that I had no wish to watch any more, or read the book either.ReplyDelete
It is not as cheery as a stroll in a flower garden with Mr Northsider - that's for sure.Delete
'In the moment' is the only place you can live.ReplyDelete
That thought crossed my mind too Charlotte but to appreciate any moment it must occupy a context.Delete
Atwood doesn't chime with me. Never has, and not for want of trying. No sooner have I read one of her novels no sooner do I feel not enriched but soiled. I have both read the Handmaid's Tale and put myself through the effort of watching some episodes. To me, the subject matter is gratuitous; more than likely titillating some viewers. It's sort of plastic.ReplyDelete
You mention that 1984 and Brave New World may be categorized as "dystopian". Let's leave aside that their authors' vision we now, more or less, live. The Handmaid's Tale, to me, a step or several backward. Retro. Considering where we are, in real time, it comes across not so much as dystopian as a surreal twist on some strange (be they male or female) phantasies of submission and dominance. Power and helplessness. Subjugation.
Come to think of it, and it's coming to me writing this comment, I am actually really pissed off that a woman (Atwood) would indulge such "fantasies". To what purpose? And I say this as someone who loves a good story - be they fairy tales, folklore, sci fi, downright simple, far fetched or indeed Kafkaesque.
I was just going to say I'm too easily disturbed and have avoided reading anything of hers. Otherwise Ursula has hit the nail on the head. "Soiled" is exactly how I felt when I read The White Hotel and I think I'd feel the same with this.Delete
Interesting reflections. Thanks for sharing them.Delete
I'm with JayCee and won't watch anything bleak or disturbing. Listening to Boris Johnson or Donald Trump is more than enough fiction for one night's viewing,ReplyDelete
Ha-ha! I agree with you there professor.Delete
What I like about your book reviews is how well you are able to convey what you enjoyed about a book just as much as what you did not, such as the afterword section in this one.ReplyDelete
As for the book itself, I have never been drawn much to dystopies, whether they are books or films; what I have read about The Handmaid's Tale is enough to make me think I can easily pass this one.
I see spyridon has found your blog, too. He/she seems to appear on almost every blog I regularly read, including my own this morning.
"Spyridon" would be a good name for a dystopian novel!Delete
I loved watching the series on TV. Chilling but feasible. Thre as a second series which was not based on the book but extrapolated what might happen. That too was very interesting.ReplyDelete
Typo... There was a second series.... Not sure why my comment was twice. My laptop is behaving oddly this morning.Delete
Slap your laptop's bottom!Delete
Haven't read the book but did enjoy watching the TV series. Ofpaul.ReplyDelete
Do you wear a white hat with wings for The Commander?Delete
I read the first book. I watched the first movie. Yes. There was a first movie. With Robert Duvall (I love him) and Faye Dunaway. And that was all enough for me. Now of course the book is a warning. The woman Trump wants to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with belongs to a religious sect where the women are or were, at least, referred to as "handmaidens."ReplyDelete
Mary, I was just coming here to tell Neil about that woman's religious group referring to them as handmaidens, and as usual, great minds think alike. It's a disgusting slap in the face after the passing of the great RBG.Delete
I know what you mean about Ofdonald. She may look normal but there's disturbing stuff lurking within such as her anti-abortion views.Delete
I'm with Bonnie, Thelma and Jaycee - it's not something that I enjoyed. I haven't read the book, and tried hard to get into the TV series but found it too depressing.ReplyDelete
It made me think that if this is the future, then what price our freedom that we women have been fighting for over the past century or so?
It certainly provides food for thought CG and that is surely what good novels should do - not just entertaining us.Delete
I read the book for the first time just a couple of years ago. I wish I'd read it before I saw the TV show, because I pictured everything as it was represented on TV rather than how it may have appeared in my own mind -- but that's a small quibble. I found it very compelling and scary, especially in our current political climate. I don't remember that end section at all!ReplyDelete
It's not a small "quibble" Steve. One of the most wonderful features of reading fiction is the extended and deeply personal acts of re-creation that occur within our own minds.Delete
I have never been able to read a complete Margaret Atwood story. they always end up being just weird. and yes I feel guilty about not reading one of Canada's best story tellers. I like listening to her speak. She's interesting and fascinating.ReplyDelete
All Canadians should be required to read "The Handmaid's Tale" by order of Supreme Commander Trudeau.Delete
What's so interesting about the novel is that it was published in 1985. It reminded me of Nazi Germany but the scapegoats were women instead of Jews.ReplyDelete
I don't know if many young women today know that women were not allowed to have their own bank accounts, credit cards or get loans until the 1970's without a man. Women weren't allowed to serve on juries until the 1950's. Married women were allowed to be discriminated against, fired from jobs, prevented from serving on juries. Women were not allowed to run in marathons, the first woman ran in the Boston marathon in 1967. It goes on and on. Margaret Atwood's dystopia is still real in this day and age and some places. Women are still viewed as property by some, still denied agency, still raped and killed.
Obiously, a topic close to my heart. I'm glad you had the chance to read the book.
And I am glad to read such positive remarks from a woman who engaged with the book full on and understood its underlying premise.Delete
A book vlogger I follow, Kalanadi (real name Rachel), recommended the new hardback edition for its beautiful cover design, worthy of the best book covers by the late Ray Hawkey, published by Vintage. I wish I knew how to reproduce it.ReplyDelete
As Lilycedar says, Margaret Atwood had any number of historic parallels in mind.
Read Christina Lamb's 2015 masterpiece, *Farewell Kabul*, and her earlier book, *The Sewing Circles of Herat: My Afghan Years*.
Women in Kabul who belonged to a writing group had to hide their books under sewing cushions, for fear of violent reprisals. A brilliant young poet, Nadia Anjuman, was murdered by her husband, who was released after a couple of years. Wahhabi women haters are still in business - read *The Islamist* by Ed Hussein.999999
Sorry about all those 9s! There must be a Wahhabi gremlin in my laptop. Ed Husain (my above misspelling) is a must-read writer if you wish to understand Islamism: his most recent book, *The House of Islam* is also essential reading.ReplyDelete
I had a very friendly meeting with my local imam, an Afghan immigrant, who served me freshly brewed coffee and a delicious lunch. His mosque was a Freemason lodge in my childhood. Women were barred from Freemasonry.
Rather ironic that a freemasons' lodge has become a mosque. That could be the basis of another dystopian novel.Delete
The spectre of dystopia is everywhere these days.Delete
Peter Hitchens writes about globalism and neo-liberal economics destroying jobs, pensions, neighbourhoods, and communities.
The other day I purchased the old Penguin Classic edition of David Karp's 1953 novel, *One*, about a state-planned utopia where private identity is submerged in the name of the collective. The very opposite of what we have today.
As for the Craft, one of my mates is a high-ranking Mason, Royal Arch of Solomon; and he is fascinated by mystery religions, the occult, ancient aliens, Tibetan Buddhism, Mystery Babylon etc.
I gave him a copy of John Murray's short book, *Redemption Accomplished and Applied*, but he wouldn't read it.
Murray was the son of crofters in northern Scotland, a Classics scholar, who lost his right eye in the First World War. His two brothers were killed.
A great theologian, whose writings have no place in our very secular Scotland.
Sorry ...I can post boring postsReplyDelete
You mean - about "The Walking Dead"?Delete
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