Monday 26 August 2019

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I've read one of Margaret Atwood's dystopian books before, Oryx and Crake, and liked it, though, like thousands of others, I was inspired to read this after watching the TV series.

In a Nutshell: Dystopian, set in an imaginary former America, in the 1980s

If you're one of the five people in the world who haven't seen the TV series,
much of America has become 'Gilead', ruled by Christian fundamentalists and cut off from the rest of the world; this is the story of one of the 'handmaids', rare fertile girls forced to bear children for high profile couples after sterility has become commonplace.

The story is told in the first person by 'Offred', though in the book we never have her real name confirmed, or that of her child.  It is slow in pace, especially at first, but this does, of course, reflect the pace of her life.  I did wonder, during the first few chapters, if anyone reading the story without having seen the series might take a while to appreciate it or even understand what is going on, as the world in which 'Offred' now lives is revealed to the reader only gradually.  I adored this book, all the way through, and couldn't read it fast enough, though I did feel frustrated by the lack of explanation - but when it comes, half way through, it is all the more shocking to find out how the 'normal' world became Gilead.

Although written in 1984, the story is chillingly prescient; Offred talks of the false flag* operations, designed to create fear within the people, so that they will not complain when their privacy and liberty is taken away ... then there is the lack of paper money, with transactions made only via 'Compubank'; another withdrawal of privacy and removal of a person's ability to stay anonymous.

Even though the people are kept relatively safe, they are fed, and have comfort and adequate medical attention, it is the the removal of liberty and the ability to communicate, and the ever-present, underlying threat should one not comply with all rules, that makes this the worse sort of horror story.

Obviously the TV show has ratings to think about, and so the story develops differently; viewers will want some happiness and resolution for June/Offred, some reconciliation, and a 'personal journey' for her, in which she grows, positively - but this was written in a time before heroines were required to be kick-ass.  The end is left open for almost all the characters... but after it finishes there is a great addition to the book that rounds it off in a different way: a transcript of a lecture given in the year 2195, talking about all that is known about the Gileadean era, much of it from Offred's account.  

Good news for those who, like me, can't get enough of either the book or the telly version - the long-awaited follow-up, The Testaments is out on September 10th.  

*...countries organize attacks on themselves and make the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus giving the nation that was supposedly attacked a pretext for domestic repression and military aggression.


  1. I'm one of the few who have neither read the book(s) nor seen the TV series. Sounds like I should start with the book...

    1. Oh, Noelle, it's so good - are you in for a treat!!!

  2. I love the book. I read it after I watched the original film. I was a bit hesitant about watching the series but I think they've done really well with it and I love the way they’ve carried the story on after the book finished

    1. I imagine you were, after reading the book - I've seen the original film too and just remember how amazingly 80s the Wives' dresses were!

      Yes, I think they've made such a good job of carrying it on past the book - The Testaments is just three other accounts of the time period. Wonder who they will be..... I'm hoping for Serena Joy, Aunt Lydia and Ofglen-Emily, because of course we know that she went to the Colonies, even though Offred didn't!

    2. Definitely Aunt Lydia. I’d like to know more about Nick too

  3. I did not read the book. I think I need to. It sounds quite shocking to see how events in modern times are moving in thecsame direction. God help us. The only thing about the book I object to is the way Christians are portrayed. We are not like that at all.

    1. Ah yes, most decent writers of dystopian fiction are keen observers of the way the world is going and what could possibly come to pass!

      I know what you mean about the religious aspect, though these are Christian fundamentalists, not your average Christian; the fundamental of any religion tend to have a somewhat insane, twisted view of the faith! The bad press that Christians receive is, though, I agree, becoming all too prevalent - it's all part and parcel of what is going on in the world.