Genres: Classic Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Alternate History
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
The Handmaid’s Tale is a speculative fiction about what would happen to the world and human rights if religious extremists took over. It’s told through the eyes of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Her sole purpose is to breed – she is sent to the house of a Commander to generate a child by him. Women are no longer allowed to read, to hold jobs, to own things. But Offred remembers life before that, her family, her job, her financial independence, her easy access to knowledge.
I didn’t expect to like this book at all. For the first pages, I thought I wouldn’t. The writing style is fluent but has a constant cadence and develops rather slowly, which I thought would be boring, but it turns out to read easily. Offred’s voice is calm, smart and matter-of-fact. I would of course have liked her to be more active and rebellious, but the way she was portrayed was far more realistic.
The world Atwood created is believable and the tension in the air is ever-present. I am impressed by how easy it was to see that world come true. One of my favorite parts of the book is one of the Aunts explaining how before (our regular world) women were free to and now (in Gilead) they were free from. The distinction, so subtle and so crucial, was genius.
I wish the world would have been more explored, although having Offred as a narrator of course limited that. I wanted to know more about what the Wives thought, what the men thought, how other Handmaids felt. But for that, the book would have needed an omnipresent narrator.
The comparison to 1984 seems inevitable, but I didn’t even think of it until I saw someone’s review on this book. So yes, I think The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be the woman-point-of-view answer to 1984, which I really liked – one of my criticisms to 1984 is the main female character, of whom I expected more. I also found Handmaid’s Tale more realistic. But they are different books, and I think you’d enjoy both more by not comparing.
The Handmaid’s Tale kept me thinking of my own freedom and what I am lucky to be able to do and choose. It’s not a light read, but also not very heavy, either.
I’m thinking of watching the series, I’ve heard it’s even better than the book!
Verdict: If you like classic fiction, this is a very good one! The writing flows nicely and the world is very interesting, with subtle (or not-so-subtle) tension and threat hanging in the air at all times. Trigger warnings: severe oppression of minority groups.