Book Reviews

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The dystopian novel is set in a totalitarian Christian society which has overthrown the government, and created an all ruling patriarchy. The likes of magazines and flashy clothing were all destroyed as vanity was no longer deemed necessary, and the rulers thought people were better off to live in a world free of those temptations. To combat declining fertility rates, some women as assigned to households as “Handmaids” in the hopes of bearing children.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood book coverThe story follows, Offred – which is Of Fred because Handmaid’s are not permitted go by by their birth names but instead by the patriarch in the family they are assigned to.

Offred details her time as a handmaid where her sole purpose is to reproduce – if she fails to do so she will be executed. She also offers us insights into her life before the revolution happened. She had a husband, a daughter, a job, rights; she had the things that women spent generations fighting for stripped away in an instant.

All good dystopian novel’s create a world somewhat reminiscent of ours, and actually isn’t that far-fetched of a possibility. It presents a caricature of our world, but in an Ireland where people are actively trying to fight against women & people with utereus’ getting body autonomy it doesn’t seem all that far away. After all, the Catholic Church sees us as nothing by baby makers.  Do I think it’s likely governments are going to be taken down to be replaced to by backwards cults seeking to strip women of all rights and body autonomy? It’s highly unlikely, but still a terrifying prospect. What really struck me was you can fight for and win your rights but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be there forever. You still have to fight for and maintain them even once they’ve been won. Just take a look at Bermuda repealing same-sex marriage.

Like Only Ever Yours  or Asking for It this wasn’t a nice fluffy read, but it was an important one. I can actually see a lot of where Louise O’Neill got the inspiration for Only Ever Yours from The Handmaid’s Tale in how women don’t seem to be granted consent, and when Offred and the other Handmaid’s- to-be are being taught how to be Handmaid’s by the Aunts. As well, Offred wasn’t the strong empowered protagonist we would hope for in this type of novel. Moria certainly was the take-no-shit master-of-my-own-fate character of the story but she didn’t have a very prominent place in the overall plot of the book. Offred isn’t happy about being a handmaid and misses her old life but she doesn’t do much about it. She doesn’t get heavily involved when Ofglen introduces her to the fact that not everyone is a “true believer” and that there are people who can help. Her disillusionment increases towards the end when she almost starts to feel that she has a life in her household. It really hurt to see Offred essentially go backwards as the book went on, but maybe that was the point, maybe systematic oppression just breaks women down? Maybe it’s a cautionary tale?

Isn’t it telling that her real name wasn’t even Offred yet we never find out what it is?

Regardless, I was completely absorbed in this and would definitely recommend The Handmaid’s Tale as it gives you a lot to think about, and yes, I will definitely watch the show after reading this.

The Handmaid's Tale illustration

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