The Handmaid's Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Currently available for free through Amazon Prime Reading (Kindle edition only). 

Summary: Set in the not-so-distant future, where a religious-based authoritarian government has taken over the United States. Women have been placed into subservient roles & there are strict rules about what they can or cannot do (reading is off the list). And where have all the older women gone?

For the handmaids their job is one of the most important: successfully get pregnant & give birth to a healthy baby. With fertility rates at an all time low these women have the duty to procreate. Other women have their own duties: depending on your income you may have to be all the roles but wealthy & powerful homes have a cook, a maid, & yes, a handmaid.

The handmaid no longer has her name: she is simply referred to as Offred, as in "of Fred". The handmaid before her had the same name & when she is given to a different commander she will take on his first name. The basic fact of losing her name symbolizes how women are stripped of their humanity & power. They are only relevant to their connection with a man.

Why women have agreed to these roles & how the government keeps the people under control is slowly revealed throughout the novel.

I loved this book, which is a strange statement as it's horrifying & completely depressing. But how the handmaid's tale is slowly unwoven is fascinating, as the reader is given little glimpses of not only her life but how the transition from the America we know to the world she now lives in happened.

There has been a lot of media discussion over the realism of this novel & now that I have read it I understand that commentary but only to an extent. It is chilling how the process is described as it is not nearly as far-fetched as you at first think. It is founded much more in reality than you'd guess based on the summary. However, that reality only goes so far & there are a lot of details of the process that the reader does not get (nor do they really need).

As far as Offred herself I found her to be relateable as she does what I think most women would do in her position. She's not a radical who tries to break free but she also is very independent at her core. Her character is slowly formed throughout the book as she tries to suppress her memories of her old life while battling with her new reality. Her heartbreak was sometimes tough for me to read as I tried to imagine myself in her shoes. I'd recommend not doing that!

I have heard nothing but good reviews of the TV adaptation so am excited to know that there is another season that perhaps goes beyond the novel. That's always risky but the book ended with me wanting more, either of Offred's story, the founding of Gilead, or just stories from other women. There is just so much material there that I want to explore & think the TV show may be an excellent source to build the story on (especially since Atwood is a producer- I'm not sure I'd be so on board without her involvement!).




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