Book Review: Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book Information:

  • Author: Margaret Atwood
  • Year Published: 1985
  • Page Count: 324
  • Genre: Dystopian, Tragedy.
  • Pacing: Drawling | Slow | Suspenseful Build | Fluctuating | Steady | Fast | Vague
  • Type: Fantasy | Mix | Realism

Plotting:

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Normally I get wary reading ‘classic’ books because there can always be that moment where modern readers can lose attraction towards it. This can be due to development or characterization issues that may have been relevant in that time but not today. But Handmaid’s Tale was definitely a plot I enjoyed reading from start to finish. It’s about as tragic as it gets when it comes to trying to survive in a world you don’t completely agree with.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this story yet, it’s a mix of history and fiction set in a place called the Republic of Gilead. A virus that caused sterility forced the republic to gather fertile women in order to populate; the main character being one of them. The entire story basically shows her journey in living in an oppressed lifestyle where her identity and belonging is all but tarnished.

Characterization:

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Offred is a character that is constantly trying to lose grasp of her current reality but also remember it at the same time. Normally when we look at dystopian stories like this, we look forward to the main character breaking all norms and rebelling in this massive arc. Offred showed a different side to it however. She showed what it was like trying to survive going with the flow. Closing your eyes or holding your breath. Taking every little memory around her as a way to keep herself occupied or more alert. We see everything in her point of view throughout the book.

However due to her fuzzy perspective and go-with-the-flow attitude, we don’t truly get to learn everything about the world around her. She sees the world and takes into account the little details. This is probably the whole point of the story but we never actually get to learn anything about anyone in her life. At least not what happened to them. The story is in the same way Offred thought. Detached and left to imagination.

Connection Building:

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Offred is branched out to all the people she has connected with. We don’t see much other than the interactions she either notices or is part of. A lot of the connections have to do with feeling or taking freedom whether through reading banned magazines or having sex. She doesn’t seem to have any real connection with any of them truly. While her interactions with Nick looked to be developing a new phase of the story, the spark quickly dwindled away.

A lot of these underdevelopments and gaps have to do with the fact that this is based off of history. It would’ve been difficult to develop some things without becoming far too inaccurate or ‘fluffy’.

Setting:

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Gilead really just looks like a military ridden town for the most part. The way it was described made me feel like the whole world was just in this blue-ish filter with traces of blood red from the Handmaids dresses. The colour and imagery from flowers were my favourite parts of the book. It created a sense of contrast to the otherwise terrifying settlement. Offred doesn’t move out of this little town place throughout the book. At least not that we know of.

Story Arc:

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It’s history. So the arc was kind of mundane to put it plainly. The book showed a woman trying to survive in a dystopian world. So it’s an almost day-to-day, dear diary experience. The supposed plot trigger was the ‘Commander’ asking her to become his concubine. Offred wanted to get hot and heavy with the Commanders helper too. If I put it that way, the story is no different from a romance drama without the romance.

In its defense, the purpose of the book was to show this world that somehow created more matriarchal importance while boosting patriarchal power. It’s essentially a one big satire of a twisted gender equality.

However if you’re looking for an interesting arc that leads somewhere incredibly satisfying and interesting then don’t hold your breath. Atwood is obviously a genius writer so whatever I say doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Writing Style:

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Atwood’s writing style become one of my favorites after reading this book. It was quick, raw and to the point. I’ve always been a fan of writers who don’t beat around the bush with too many descriptions and drag on the story. From the allusions to fertility in Serena Joy’s garden to how Offred kept phasing in and out of reality were so smoothly done. It was an extremely pleasant experience reading her work. 

Social Readings

  • Feminism:

This is really where the book’s strengths lie. The way this world is formed to showcase female oppression and twisted form of gender power balance. A woman being able to give birth became almost like a superpower or some otherworldly experience. All of the Handmaid’s and Wives would gather for one single birth like it was Jesus. Men weren’t allowed to cat-call or harass women anymore and rapists were physically ripped apart by the Handmaids. All the while, women could not learn how to read or write and Handmaids weren’t allowed to speak casually or have face cream. Take freedom to give freedom. The general contradictions are what make the book so enjoyable to read.

Concluding Thoughts:

If you’re interested in a classic historical fiction then this is truly a good piece to read! Considering most people in the world know about this book, my review is just one small opinion out of many. I did enjoy reading this from start to finish. Let me know your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it!

Other than that, please stay safe and healthy, everyone!

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