Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

I'm not entirely sure I can write a coherent review of The Handmaid's Tale. All I seem capable of is "OMG! Awesomeness! I want to read all of Atwood's works NOW! Why oh why has this lingered unread on my shelves for over 10 YEARS?!?! What's wrong with me???"

In case you can't tell, I loved this! This makes me so happy, because the last three speculative fictions works I've read I ended up disliking so much I didn't even finish them. And I'm usually a bit OCD about finishing books if I start them. Until about a year ago, there were only three books I had started on not finished (She's Come Undone, Invisible Man, and The Killer Angels - all in high school). I'm happy I've managed to stop obsessively making myself finish books I'm not enjoying, but I was starting to think I just didn't like speculative fiction anymore and made me sad.

The three books I had problems with are all very popular with book bloggers: The Magicians, Howl's Moving Castle, and Game of Thrones. I really expected to like all of these. Bloggers with normally similar tastes to me liked them. They aren't out of my comfort realm. But, I just thought the writing on all of these was awful! I feel like I've been really picky with writing lately. I think maybe I'm reading too many classics and literary fiction with beautiful writing and it's changed how I read. I don't like feeling snobby or missing good stories because of this though, but none of the stories were pulling me in. I got more than halfway through The Magicians and Howl's Moving Castle and just didn't care what happened. In The Magicians, I was actually starting to wish bad things upon the characters! In Game of Thrones, I made it about 60 pages and just wanted to cry at the thought of finishing it.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a post about The Handmaid's Tale. I couldn't help comparing it to the three works above, however unfair that may be. The language was lush and lyrical without being overdone. She hit all the right notes, telling just enough to keep you moving forward, curious, anxious, right up until the last page. She leaves you wanting more - what happened??? It's one of those stories where you really want a sequel, but that would ruin everything.

I think this work was terrifying because something like this happening isn't completely out of the realm of possibility. It's unlikely, but think about things that happened in Nazi Germany or the USSR or under Mao - all of these were civilized countries where essentially a dictator was able to take over and do horrendous things. The government - left and right - has been taking away our freedoms for years and most people do nothing. Who's to say it wouldn't happen here?

The duties of Offred in the book are especially scary to me. I would rather be tortured than be forced to have sex with a man with his wife there and have my whole purpose in life be to provide them with a child!!! It's awful! It gives me chills. Why is in dystopian novels women almost always are reduced to baby-making machines? Perhaps reading too many of these books as a young adult are part of the reason why I don't want kids! :)

I'm so happy to have finally read this book, which is the second book I've finished for Adam's Magical March. And I'm happy Atwood has written quite a few books for me to read in the future! It's nice to discover a new-to-me author with a good backlist.


  1. I'm so glad you loved this one! I read this back in college after a roommate MADE me read it. I'm saving this one for near the end of my project list because I know I'll fly through it. :)

    1. It was great. I'm going to have to try Howl's Moving Castle again at some point. I know you've raved about the author and it made me sad to not like it! I'm thinking I have just not been in the mood for fantasy at that point.

  2. It is a wonderful book and as you say I loved that I could see how, on some level, it could become reality. The bits when she looks back and we see that were so interesting because it seemed to show how people often have too much faith in their Governments being benign.

    I'm commenting mainly to say about The Magicians and Game of Thrones though! I had a love/hate relationship with the former since it got weird and then I kept switching between liking and hating the characters. Even by the end I wasn't sure. So I get why you wanted bad things to happen: I kind of did too!

    And it takes a whole load of patience to read a Game of Thrones. There's too much and most people I know who've read it say they usually only do so because they love one of several story-lines in particular.

  3. I'm glad you liked The Handmaid's Tale too, and you make me feel like I'm not missing out too much on The Magicians or Game of Thrones! :)