I’m a bit late to the party with one of the most iconic books ever written… Margaret Atwood’s novel which she is best known for: The Handmaid’s Tale.
First written in 1980s, Atwood’s work is a great piece of feminist fiction – whilst it may not seem it, she drips information of whether or not such a state can be overturned and women can lead lives they had previously, including Offred’s own where she had a name, a husband and daughter. It is unclear where the plot leads, but I guess that truly shows the lack of possibility for Offred as she only has one purpose…
For those who haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of reading it, it is a science-fiction cross dystopian novel set in future New England, America, where doctors are hanged, women are submitted to bear other Commanders’ (men) children, and there is a constant fear of staying on the right side of those in charge, fearful you can be subjected to public hanging or exile to the ‘land of radiation’, as I depicted it anyway. Either way: death.
Imagine a world where you’re forced to have sex as is expected of society and the Law; you are not allowed to read or write (omfg); nor use moisturiser or beauty products – or ‘vanity’ products, as they are known.
This is the experience of Offred, a handmaid whose tale flicks between the past and present, detailing the change into the new state where all power was taken away from women. In fact, the novel was original called ‘Offred’ before Atwood changed it to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.
Why a handmaid? To serve a duty and increase population numbers; to bring life into the world. To perform her duty as is interpreted by the Bible.
There is a very religious backing to the story, where Commanders read religious pieces to them every day, so much so they know it off by heart.
I didn’t think much of her name until she refers to other handmaids, including Ofglen, where it soon becomes apparent that she is owned by her Commander (she doesn’t even need to mention his name is Fred) and his strange, possessive wife Serena Joy. I squirmed when I read just how they aim to conceive involving all 3 parties… don’t worry, I won’t go into the details. But imagine the lack of privacy as the wife holds your hands as the Commander does the deed at the other end…?!
I mentioned ‘pleasure’ earlier on; believe it or not, it really was a great, thought-provoking, yet unnerving read, making me scared that such a situation could happen where we are all subject to pure patriarchy and a totalitarian state.
It’s a pretty messed up plot, but fantastically told, so much so that I could not put this down.
I couldn’t help every time I took a quick break from the book what it would be like to live in such a state, if all the hard work of feminists and activists was just reversed over a matter of days and no one had the power to fight it without being killed. It’s messed up that some of the ‘new’ doctors offer to ‘help’ the handmaids get pregnant, even though there is the risk both parties could be hanged just like their bad predecessors.
I can truly understand why this is one of the most important works of fiction ever to be written, even near 40 years later!
Rating – 5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre – feminist fiction, fiction, dystopian, science-fiction