Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: 311

First Published: 1985

First Sentence: We slept in what had been once the gymnasium.

To start if off, let me just say this: It’s an unsettling book and some scenes were very disturbing, in a sense that Atwood has successfully painted the fear and horror of living in a world such as the Republic of Gilead. I’ve felt so many things throughout the novel, fear and sadness and curiosity and annoyance included, but I can say it’s definitely not my favorite dystopian book. Oh, I’m very much aware of the new TV show based on this classic tale, but being the bookworm I was, I refused to watch it before reading the book first. Cheers.

Unlike the other notable dystopian novels written just before Atwood’s, such as 1984, Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale considered the terrifying turn of future from a woman’s perspective. What if infertility rate shoots up and some maniacs overthrow the government, forcing fertile women to bear children for their infertile counterparts? Voila, we get The Handmaid’s Tale.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

I found that nothing really happened throughout the novel itself. It was just setup, setup, flashback, setup, setup, flashback, trigger event and finally, obscure ending. The narrator spent nearly all of the book introducing us to the workings of this new society, her routines, the rules, events from before, and she had so many philosophical, random musings, without really doing anything of interest. The only reason I flipped through the pages non-stop (I admit, up to a few hours past midnight) was that I’d expected something big to happen, an unexpected turn to shoot right out of the blue. How disappointed I was. Then again, perhaps that had been intentional.

Nevertheless, I assure you this book is a little bit more than non-existent exciting plots. I felt that Atwood had written in more of an emotional context, she had succeeded in drilling the head of a Handmaid and putting her thoughts and emotions on display for the readers. Sure, she wrote some quotable and beautiful words. Here’s one that I found eerily relatable,

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

And then some more:

“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”

“The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil.”

“If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending…
But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone.
You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else. Even when there is no one.” 

Last but not least, moving on to the writing style. I really didn’t like the writing style in The Handmaid’s Tale, I felt that the sentences were all too short and choppy, creating a monotonous narrative. I couldn’t connect with the main character, though at some points I did feel and fear for her. I wasn’t used to the lack of quotation marks either. But in the end [of the book] I learned that the whole narrative had in fact been a transcript of the main character’s voice recording. Oh, I thought, so that explained the unusual “writing style”. The monotone had probably been intentional as well (I wouldn’t know as I haven’t read Atwood’s other works), if you only consider this particular novel, as generalizing Handmaid’s minds and erasing them of personalities would’ve also been the Eyes’ purpose. In some ways, we knew their aim had been achieved, had somehow left its mark on the main character’s thoughts.

So, do I regret reading this book? No. Would I want to reread it? Maybe, but probably not. Do I recommend it anyway? Yes, it’s a pretty quick read and you might like it. We humans have strange perceptions of what’s good and what’s not.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What do you think of it?


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