The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Surely her cockiness, her optimism and energy, her pizzazz, will get her out of this. She will think of something. But I know this isn’t true. It is just passing the buck, as children do, to mothers.”

Genre: Dystopian, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “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…”

Review: I wanted to read The Handmaid’s Tale because I was (naively) interested in watching the renowned Hulu TV show. I almost always prefer to read the book version prior to seeing a movie or TV show, and figured I could kill two birds with one stone by reading The Handmaid’s Tale (an often banned/challenged book). However, having now read The Handmaid’s Tale, I have no interest in watching the show. This book was disturbing and vivid enough through text alone that I know the TV show would be too disturbing for me. I’ve never read Atwood before, but found that I really enjoyed her writing style. It’s somewhat hard to describe, but she writes the way that I think (with long sentences and lots of commas). I found her style to be poetic and straightforward.

“Waiting is also a place: it is wherever you wait. For me it’s this room. I am a blank here, between parentheses. Between other people.”

Like many other readers, I found The Handmaid’s Tale to be a particularly challenging read because parts of it feel disturbingly relevant. Given the political climate in my home country, I can’t help but wonder if we’re at risk for certain Gilead-esque consequences.

“Others have thought such things, in bad times before this, and they were always right, they did get out one way or another, and it didn’t last forever. Although for them it may have lasted all the forever they had.”

I really liked trying to unravel the mysteries of Gilead through the windows provided by Offred, the reluctant narrator. My biggest complaint was that I wanted more from Atwood! I wanted more details, more history, more explanations. It’s a credit to her storytelling that I felt this way at the end of the novel, but I also think the book would have benefited from just a bit more detail. The epilogue helped fill in some of the blanks, but I’ll always wonder what happened to Offred and the other characters. Perhaps I need to watch the TV show after all…

Reason for Ban/Challenge: The Handmaid’s Tale has maintained a spot on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently banned and challenged books for multiple decades. It touches on a lot of hot-button topics, including sex, feminism, reproductive rights, religion, and equality. It’s also almost universally agreed upon that The Handmaid’s Tale is a disturbing (and terrifying) read, which has likely contributed to the many bans and challenges received over the years.




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