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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I almost don’t want to review this. It’s about 30 years old, so anything I say will not be new and certainly is not still #relevent and I know for a fact that it’s one of the set texts for A Level students studying English literature, so I feel that my analysis will not do it justice, especially as a I endeavor to not include spoilers in my reviews and I did not study A Level English, so will not have an eloquent, literary grasp of the themes and styles of the text. However, I have not read anything else recently and it’s been some time since my last review, so I have to say something. I really don’t understand these reviewers who can read and review several books in a week and still have lives and full time jobs. What is your secret?!

For those not in the know, here is the blurb: handmaids-tale

“The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.”

OK, anyone who scrolls back through my posts can probably figure out why I wanted to read this. Dystopian society? Check. Hint of rebellion? Yep. Annoying love triangle? Double tick; I’m not ashamed to admit that I thought this was going to be a more mature version of The Hunger Games of something. Hahahahaha, how wrong can a person be?

To be honest I’m not entirely sure I understood it. I mean, I understand the surface text, I don’t understand the subtle undertones, reading between the lines, that jazz.

In short an unknown religious sect has used Islamophobia to assassinate congress and stage a hostile take over of America. They pass various 1984 style laws and decree that women are nothing more than baby-making machines. The Handmaid is Offred, a woman who has been forced out of her old life of mother and wife, to become the personal baby maker of a high ranking official and his wife. That still sounds really cool and interesting, except that after that’s established literally nothing happens. It’s an interesting insight into the life of this character and the mindset of the masses: keep your head down and just survive, but after a while it gets dull and I want some plot. I guess it’s supposed to be satire and social commentary of the way the world was (is) going at the time. People forcing their views onto others, blaming innocents for atrocities of the few, rallying mass hysteria to distract from real problems. Burying heads in the sand and hoping it goes away. Sound familiar?

I really don’t like the way this is written, I’m not a fan of adhoc punctuation. I guess it’s a byproduct of having the need for ‘proper punctuation’ drilled into my head for my entire school life: I recognize that you’ve made an artistic, linguistic decision to remove speech marks, I respect that. I don’t like it, put them back. It took me far to long to realise that the names are literally owners labels. ‘Offred’ is literally Of Fred. The Handmaid Of Fred. Clever, but also made me feel really stupid when I eventually picked up on that. I’m basically rambling. I told you I didn’t know how to review this, I feel like I need to write a proper essay on the text rather than my usual rambling thought trail, either way I think someone would think it was wrong. I might just leave this here, with a selection of my favourite lines from my notes.

‘interweaving backstory and current plot is cool, but current plot isn’t going anywhere fast by page 100’

P186 – “Pen is envy” – ‘Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha’


‘This book is odd’

‘I’m not a raging feminist, but this is really getting on my tits’

‘That ending is brilliant. I hate it. But it’s brilliant’.

So yeah, basically, I really don’t know how to review this. It’s clearly a hard hitting social commentary about the dangers and effects of zealotism and fear, written thirty years ago and still as relevent as ever. I feel like I need to read something light-hearted now.

SN: I wrote the majority of this review weeks and week ago, just after I finished the book and to be honest, I still don’t know how to review it, but feel like I need to give it a full 5 star rating because it has been weeks and I’m STILL thinking about it. Still wondering about how it could have happened, still both angry and mesmerised by the ending, still wondering if it counts as a critical text of social commentary or if it’s just a creepy nightmare.

Yep. Wow.

5/5 *****




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