Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that, despite the general raving about this text in the blogosphere and elsewhere, I did not like The Handmaid’s Tale.

The fictional regime, “looking out” for women, screws them over and the majority seems to go along with it. Really? It felt like I was reading about Iran's current government, not America. The American attitude about individuals' rights is so ingrained in us that I really don’t ever see something as incredible as Atwood’s dystopia ever existing here, thank goodness. Anywho, the plausibility factor was at zero for me concerning the plot in The Handmaid’s Tale.

As a dysopian novel, all the factors were there. An uber terrifying government and a brainwashed, messed up society: check.
Summary: "Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gildead. 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 a age of declinning births, Offred and the other Handmiads 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...

Funny, unexpeted, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force."
A character getting the boot from said society who knows there's soemthing wrong: check. Crushing of said character's soul: check. Atwood is great with description. Maybe too great. There was at least one disgusting, revolting description of the handmaid's "ceremony," a.k.a. having sex with the Commander while his wife is present to demonstrate her consent (gag). It's graphic and bizarre. I wanted to see Offred revolt and burn the house down.
Spoiler Alert! **************************************************************************

I kept reading to see what, if anything, Offred was going to do. The ending was, I felt, very disappointing. Rescue? By the chauffeur/Offred’s sex outlet? Realistically, she would have been apprehended, killed, whatever. The text leaves a teeny tiny bit of room to believe Offred was caught while escaping but most everything points towards her success.
End Spoiler ***************************************************************************
As a cautionary tale about protecting the rights we women have it somewhat succeeded. As a story it was boring and unbelievable. The writing was just ok (Offred's point of view didn't endear her to me). I’m not completely turned off by Atwood though and suspect I might like her other books. She certainly has imagination and a flare for description (another reason why I kept reading). My suggestion: skip The Handmaid’s Tale and read 1984. It will be much more rewarding and interesting.   

Publisher: Harcourt, 1998     Pages: 320
Rating: 2 Stars     Source: Purchased through Amazon Storefront


  1. And I would suggest reading Atwood's Cats Eye or The Robber Bride or Oryx and Crake (another dystopian novel but with a decidedly distinct focus) or her short fiction collection Bluebeard's Egg rather than The Handmaid's Tale. In general, I'm a huge fan of Canadian author Margaret Atwood's writing and her active engagement with young writers and with issues. But THT is my least favorite.
    Looking forward to your next review!

  2. I didn't care for "The Handmaid's Tale" either. I've read it two or three times too, and it just never quite 'stuck' with me. Now her "The Penelopiad", on the other hand, is nothing short of sheer brilliance. I do think Atwood an important writer though, she's got vision! Excellent review! Cheers! Chris