The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Book Review)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
The Handmaid’s Tale is a 1985 dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government, the novel explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain individualism and independence. The novel’s title echoes the component parts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which comprises a series of connected stories (“The Merchant’s Tale”, “The Parson’s Tale”, etc.).

My Thoughts:

I liked this book but didn’t love this book. I’ll be honest and say I knew nothing about it until the TV series started and, when hearing that the novel was “feminist dystopian apocalyptic sci-fi”, I was all “WHAT? That’s so my type of thing!!”. It’s a very good book. I can see why it’s a modern classic but I can’t say it’s one I’ll ever call a favorite of mine.

This is a novel that’s worthy of thorough analysis & discussion. You’re SO not gonna get that on my silly little movie blog! 😉 I’m happy to discuss it with any of you in the comments if you want but I think there are far better places online to find good write-ups of it. I would imagine that The Handmaid’s Tale is now studied in high schools (or perhaps colleges – Americans can be extremely uptight, so the sexual content would probably keep it out of high schools). Or… Is it? It should be studied & discussed, especially as it’s worryingly feeling more & more like a future that’s entirely possible in our lifetimes. I do remember when the TV series started & some people online were all “This show is obviously  anti-Trump!”. Ha! Hilarious. This show based on the book from 1985. Do these people not realize that seeing so many similarities between this book’s “fictional” dystopian future & modern day politics is scary as f*%k?!?!

I think it’s unfortunate, in a way, that this book has been labelled “feminist” as this term bizarrely has negative connotations to some people and would probably keep them from reading it. It’s a very well-written & important piece of work that deserves recognition alongside old literary classics (although I suppose that 1985 is now “old” – it just seems like yesterday to me since I’m so damn old myself). At what point is a modern classic no longer a modern classic? Okay – I’m old & depressed now. Where were we?

Oh yeah – Feminist dystopia. Don’t let labels keep you from reading this book if it interests you. Even Margaret Atwood doesn’t approve of this being labelled sci-fi & prefers to call it “speculative fiction” (I read that HERE at Wikipedia, where there’s an interesting bit about the book’s genre classification). Sci-fi does bring futuristic technology to mind whereas this book, although set in the future, feels like it’s set hundreds of years ago due to society’s regression. Once again, it’s scary as hell as it’s starting to feel like we may be headed in that direction.

As for this book’s overall “readability” (as in, is it at all enjoyable as opposed to just worthy), I’d say it has a tiny bit of that “They’ve forced me to read this book in school” thing going on. I don’t really mean that as an insult & I personally found the story itself entirely engrossing. The story kept me very interested and turning the pages but, unfortunately, I didn’t really care that much about the characters. Also, I’m not one of these annoying people who require an explanation for EVERYTHING but you really don’t find much out in this book. Whatever happened to cause this apocalyptic(?) future is never fully explained and things from the past are only hinted at through the vague thoughts of Offred, our main character. I felt like we didn’t really get to know her, which made it hard to connect with her. Although I know that’s kind of the point as any kind of emotion must be hidden & she’s living her life in constant fear. Atwood also has an odd sort of writing style, which I think further made it slightly difficult to fully connect with the book. Fantastic concept & great story but a book I can’t say I loved since I didn’t have much of a connection with the characters.

As for the current TV series, I did watch the first episode after finishing the book. Rubbish. I won’t be continuing. Sorry to anyone who’s a fan of the show but, if you’ve not read the book, I definitely recommend it over what I’ve seen of the show. Long, drawn out scenes for zero reason other than to appear “deep & brooding”.  Added violence that was not in the book (what was done to Janine didn’t happen in the book). And the episode ends with, I think, a final line that is, very importantly, never said in the book. Why?!?! After that, I knew I couldn’t continue. They’re clearly going to change too much & piss me off. And now, hearing there’s a SECOND season?!? Piss off. Don’t milk it. End it where it’s meant to end. Pffft. Adaptations annoy the hell out of me sometimes. Skip the show & go straight to the book with this one.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Books I’ve Read So Far In 2017 (ranked from least favorite to favorite…)

– Tape by Steven Camden
– The Sisters by Claire Douglas
– We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
– If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Circle by Dave Eggers
– The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
The Dinner by Herman Koch
– The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
– The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
– Blaze by Stephen King
– A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
– Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie
– Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
– All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
– The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Now currently reading: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

14 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Book Review)

    • I remember you mentioning this book being one that you love. 🙂 I did like it but my expectations were probably too high. And I know I probably gave up on the TV show too quickly. I think it was mostly knowing that another series is going ahead. It feels like they milk everything to death nowadays. Think I’m more interested in checking out the 1990 movie (though I’m sure it’s not great…).

  1. I love this book. (one of my favorites… my introduction to the word palimpsest [a word I have still never used correctly]) But I also (gasp) love the TV series. Yes they change things to make it more of a TV show (read- DUMBED DOWN) but it is enjoyable and still smart. I also love the cast (which you’ve tagged here in you book review… clever). I almost wish here that you had checked out the series before reading the book. It’s usually better the traditional way but it seems the reverse order may have solved your problems with both. (I might be wrong)

    Me and my friend Jack were walking through the city tripping on acid and we wandered into a famous jazz club. The Blue Note, The Vanguard. I don’t remember which. We did whatever we liked when we were on LSD. We called ourselves The Kings of the Earth. We do what we want, whenever we want. So we walked into this jazz club like we owned the place and it was packed to the rafters. But we had stepped into an eery silence. We heard only the faint echo of the last cymbal crash as it passed, wave after decaying wave, bouncing off the exposed brick. The remnants of a sound we did not actually hear. In the silence of a club we did not actually pay to get into. And as we stood there in the respectful quiet, that seemed to last forever, the crowd waited for the palimpsest to dissipate. The Kings of the Earth had arrived to stunned stillness… followed by thunderous applause.

    • Oh yeah! Tags… Do they actually make any sort of difference? I still stick tags on my posts but can’t actually see them when I view my blog on my phone. Anyway, I used to throw random shit into the tags to see if anyone noticed. And now I really need to go look up the word “palimpsest”!!!! 😳 Oh, this book. It’s good but I’m usually happiest when reading Stephen King. Or YA. Or anything without big words like “palimpsest”. I think, with most TV shows nowadays, I just get annoyed too easily & don’t really have the time to spend on watching them. So they have to immediately grab me. I watch nothing other than Game Of Thrones these days. And I’ll watch Stranger Things when it starts again. And I used to LIVE for TV as a kid. I was an addict. Now I’d rather watch a movie instead. I think I just miss those simple old sitcoms. Golden Girls all the way!!! 😀👍 Sorry. Went off on a tangent. I’m tired. But why is the wife in The Handmaid’s Tale young & hot instead of old like in the book?! Seriously. She’s hotter than Offred.

      • Yeah. Good sitcoms went the way of the dodo.
        I need to read more. I’ve only read ONE Stephen King book. And the only YA I’ve read (even when I was a YA) is Harry Potter. (I could be wrong. I might be forgetting something)

  2. I first came across this book when in college in the 90’s. It terrified me then. I barely remember it. I don’t think I got very far. I didn’t have to read it for any of my Lit courses. I read it because the person who recommended the Ender books also recommended it. Or at least I started it. When the older t.v. movie came out, I watch that and was still horrified. So much so that I have been unable to watch the new one, which I’ve heard tell was closer to the book. The reason I find it horrifying isn’t the material itself, it is the way in which I could see it happening. ESPECIALLY now days. The more conservatives dig their feet in and try to return to the days of the past were white men control all women and all people of any other race because of what they perceive as a god-ordained order to the world. It is very similar to the reason’s there is actually an increase in the rapes and acid attacks. I read some sociology studies says it is reactionary to the fact many Indian women are going to school, going to college, becoming doctors and other high status jobs, becoming powerful. That it is a reactionary action in order to try to keep women in their place, to push them back down, to try to force a world moving forward to roll backwards. And now we are seeing this happening in our country. More restrictive abortion laws, taking away peoples rights, but especially women’s rights, pushing out immigrants, making out our own cities and towns less safe for people and saying it is to make America great again. It is a horrible chilling thing and this book and the Netflix show seem to be an icon for all that is wrong in our current state of culture even if this book is a fictional world that presents an extreme vision.

    • Yep. Exactly. It’s scary how possible this book actually seems nowadays. Wonder if Atwood knew in 1985 that this fictional world in her book would be a very real world possibility in her lifetime…. Yikes. 😳😕

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  8. I agree with you that it was a bit difficult to connect with the main character when reading, and nothing much was explained. Perhaps, that was intentional, because the author said at one point she wanted everything to be as realistic as possible, and much explanations may board on fantastical. It was really hard for me to get interested in the plot when I initially started reading – so much was confusing!, but when I got half way through, the book was just unputdownable.

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