Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Are there any questions?

How can you end a book like The Handmaid's Tale with that! I have so many questions I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should start by saying this is a work of pure genius and it has taken over my life ever since I watched the first episode of the new TV version (which I have paused after 3 episodes so I could finish the book first). I remember my mum talking to me about this book a good 10 years ago and trying to explain it to me and why it is one of her all time favourite reads, I must have tuned out and I'm kicking myself for doing that because this book is amazing.

This is such a thoughtful book, written from Offred's perspective some time after the events it describes (which did make me happy as I was convinced that must mean she found a way out). It is deeply personal to Offred's experience and is heartbreaking, funny, brutal and rational all at the same time (I know that's an odd choice of adjectives but it's how I was left feeling). I was hooked from page one and was desperate to know more (how ironic) about everything in Offred's world. 

Watching the TV series first I hadn't noticed the implications of Offred's name until I saw it written down, and the looks and brief moments of consideration between the actresses in the series are transformed here into paragraphs of agonising and internal monologue trying to gauge the slightest reaction and the potential consequences (as I said, total genius). It utterly terrified me and at the same time I couldn't stop looking at it, I suppose the only thing to compare it to is watching an accident happen, you can see the potential for it, can see it happening, know the results will be horrible but somehow you just can't tear your eyes away.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of this book is the potential for it to actually happen. It's so easy to see how and why someone would be an Aunt (I found these the most vile aspect and the true "gender traitors" of the book). You only have to turn on the news to see all kinds of religious extremism worldwide and the lengths people will go to in the name of their God. Humanity, when it is desperate, is not a nice thing to watch, and from the historical notes at the end you can see the reasoning and justifications for Gilead (I studied history at university and I am now reevaluating how many totalitarian societies I have studied from a coldly clinical perspective like this). This is the ultimate what if? I hope to God (I know, there's that irony again) that this never happens and stays fictional. But there is one shining piece of advice for all oppressed women to take from this, Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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