*This review is Spoiler Free*
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is hailed as a modern classic and the title is recognized by many readers. In 1986, this adult dystopian was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the novel tells the story of Offred. Offred is a Handmaid, a Handmaid’s purpose is to bear children in the Republic of Gilead. After terrorist attacks, America is overrun by a Christian dictatorship, women lose all their basic human rights and are assigned roles. A Handmaid is one of those roles, they are allowed to leave the homes in which they reside once daily to go to grocery stores where the signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. Offred is forced to ‘offer up’ herself to be impregnated by the Commander (in whose house she is the assigned Handmaid). Offred can remember the husband and daughter she once had in the time before The Republic of Gilead but is unable to speak of them or utter her own name from the time before. This story is most haunting because it does not take too much imagining to believe such a society could become a reality in our world.
A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays in the maze.
I feel like I have always known of this novel. I had been assigned it as a required reading in a high school English class, but never read it. Back then I fancied myself as quite the literary rebel and refused to read almost every course reading, well except for The Outsiders (which is still one of my favorite books to date). As time went on I felt that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this book because it was a “modern” classic…and we’ve gone over how I’d convinced myself that I despise classics before. Well that all changed when I scrolled past it on the Toronto Public Library’s online website while at work, and *gasp* without a book from home, decided to borrow it since everything I had in mind to read was unavailable. I legitimately laugh at myself now, when I think back on how I avoided this book like it was a blight of plague or something, and then of the morning that followed that fateful bookless night at work. So, unsuspecting unicorn me began reading in the browser of my work computer, after about 40 pages my shift was done and I had to stop reading. I was so engrossed in the story that I ran to the nearest bookstore and bought a copy because I couldn’t bear to be separated from the book for my nearly two hour journey home. At this point, you are safe to assume that I was in a serious insta-lovey case of book love.
We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?
One of my favorite things about my reading experience with this book was the fact that Offred is able to remember and recollect ‘the time before’. Up until reading The Handmaid’s Tale, all the dystopian novels that I had read had been YA. For the most part, the protagonists in those novels had no distinct or vivid memories of how society was before. It was mesmerizing to get to read Offred’s memories of times when everything was okay, the situations and her experiences when things first began to change, and also how her life changed after America became the Republic of Gilead. Although, getting glimpses into the past was fun it is also heartbreaking. To see how full Offred’s life was with her husband and daughter and to think about how much we all, humans and unicorns alike, experience and sometimes don’t appreciate because we don’t ever contemplate a change, such as the one in this novel, taking place is a bit daunting. Offred is a strong female protagonist, her voice resonates with the reader and does an amazing job of portraying the horrors of life in this setting.
The story is well-rounded, the characters are well-thought out and their stories are fleshed out. The story does tend to lag a bit in places and slow down, but for once I appreciated that. The slow pacing felt like it added to the tone of the story and improved my overall reading experience. I did have a ever so slight problem with the ending of the book, I’ve realized since starting this blog that I am incredibly picky about conclusions and feel like I’m always complaining for more story, but even with that in mind…I will admit I wish there was just a tiddy-bit more. Although this novel is a dystopian, I would feel comfortable recommending it to readers that generally tend to read only contemporary fiction. There is so much depth to the story, and that depth doesn’t come from world-building and conflicts that arise from trying to disband the dystopian society, and that is something that translates well and is one of the main reasons I have it as one of my ‘Swiss Army Knife’ recommendations (term stolen from Amanda at Book Riot). I give The Handmaid’s Tale 9-of the shiniest, most polished and adorned Unicorn Horns-out of 10.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.