Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would have given this 5 stars if Atwood had not made so much use of present tense. I understand she was playing with tense, and much of the novel is a series of flashbacks, but even in the flashbacks she sometimes used present tense and I hate that.

It's a brilliant book, but too literary for my taste. Atwood can spend three paragraphs on the metaphorical aspects of the act of sex and pages and pages on exactly how things look and feel for the narrator. She also leaves the reader with a highly ambiguous ending. Between that and her insistence that this isn't science fiction, she's lucky I didn't give her three stars.

But it is a chilling read, more so now than when it was written. Talk about a war on women! In this book, women lost the war. Offred, the title character, relates being virtually brainwashed and physically abused by religious zealots who feel compelled to make her accept her place as a man's chattel. And many of her abusers are women. All this is done in the name of God.

The one thing that bothered me in plot of the book is that Offred (for Of Fred, her protector; no other name is given for her, except in the notes at the end where it says she might have been called June) recalls her past of less than a decade before as if it were completely normal (i.e. much as life is now). And yet in the Republic of Gilead the birth rate is terrifyingly low because of pollution causing birth defects and sterility. It seems to me that kind of problem wouldn't happen overnight; it would have had a major impact on life even in a free society.

Still, a compelling story.

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