The Handmaid’s Tale

Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale has been sitting on my shelf for months. I know people who have read this book several times and hold it in great esteem – which is why it was on my shelf – and I had found an interview with its acclaimed Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, thoroughly fascinating; but I also believed that this book was unlike anything I would normally enjoy. And I was right.

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the fictional, futuristic Republic of Gilead; a repressive state ruled by fear and clinical functionality. Our heroine, Offred, must either breed or face a slow death by radiation sickness or being publicly hanged at the infamous wall. Her tale is as bleak as Atwood’s carefully crafted empty setting.
Getting into the book took a little effort. The story jerks around in time as Offred’s mind moves backwards and forwards. This is, after all, her tale. But at some indefinable point a few short chapters in, I realised reading her story had morphed from labour to love. I shared Offred’s resignation and resistance. Her stifled, mundane existence. I accompanied her on walks for much needed fresh air. And saw the wall. Like Offred, I feared for her future. Would she breed? Would she die? Would she be betrayed? Would she betray? I wanted to know. Resisting a quick flip to the back of the book to check her fate was my biggest triumph last week; thank goodness I didn’t. It would have been on a par with stealing a slice of dessert three hours before dinner.

But the true genius of Atwood’s book lies rippling under the surface. Throughout The Handmaid’s Tale, there is a niggling nugget of fear that extends far beyond the confines of Gilead: Reader beware, it whispers, you could be next.

If you are looking for an intelligent, reflective read, this book is a given. I would like to see it on the compulsory booklist of every school that educates our young people. There are many things in this book they simply need to know or at the very least reflect upon. Including what a piece of original literature by a truly gifted writer looks like.


Two of my favourite quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale:

Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

You might even provide a Heaven for them. We need you for that. Hell we can make for ourselves.

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