Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
The Handmid’s Tale is one that most people have heard of at least, but I’ve sort of avoided it for years. (I have this thing against reading books that people tell me I need to read…) To be honest I’m glad I waited until now to read it because I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much.
The tale follows Offred, a Handmaid in the home of a Commander and his (kind of intimidating) wife. As a woman she has been assigned to the job of the Handmaid, and once a month she has to lay with the commander to try and get pregnant. Her only job is to provide the Republic of Gilead with children, and her whole reality revolves around that. She’s required to stay healthy and devoted to theirs cause. Occasionally we are given flashbacks of her life before Gilead and during the first days of the Republic, and she frames it in a way to show the differences and slow progression of a woman who lived independently to a woman who is forced to have a companion to walk to the market. It’s a chilling story to say the least, and it’s hard to not kind of pull personal politics in to how you view the story because it’s sort of a political message in itself.
We see a world where women’s rights are taken away, reduced to the bare minimum (like breathing and living), and then given back in shitty wrapping paper that they swear is actually golden. They reinforce the message that the world before was a mess, choices for women lead to all kinds of disruption and lude enterprises that made the world fall into madness. Things like rape and sexual assault are reinforced as being the woman’s fault, abortions are illegal and punishable by death, and the lgbt community outlawed. It’s a stark and unforgiving book, that presents a stark and unforgiving reality. I think after the year that I’ve had, where I’ve witnessed a very public rise in dissension for minorities, women, and the lgbt community this book sort of hit home. Well it more of punched home and then proceeded to kick it a little.
I will say the writing style is going to be a love it or leave it affair. You’ll either walk away from it feeling somewhat unimpressed or bored, or you’ll enjoy it and fall into the unique quality. It is a short but slow feeling read.
This is my second Atwood novel and I think I like her! This one was really different from Hag-Seed, but she has a way of presenting human nature that really works.