Friday, November 21, 2008

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Amazing that this book should be my 100th book review of the year. This is probably my all-time favorite book, and after re-reading for the third time, I am reminded why. It is amazing what you get out of a book that is different each time you read it. I think that is a measure of how good a book really is, sometimes.
The Handmaid's Tale is similar to many of the other books that I have read recently, the dystopias that I love so much. This is by far the best. The world that Atwood creates is much more similar to our own than that of 1984 or Brave New World. Although 1984 takes place not long after the upheaval that creates its world, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a world that is so similar to our own. The main character remembers so much from "the time before" that is recognizable.
The way that women are controlled in this new society is frightening, and it's always the worst when we learn that many women support what the new society is doing. They feel safer with the new order, although how anyone can ever feel safe when everyone is under heavy government surveillance, I will never understand. Everyone must constantly watch their step, make sure to not attract undue notice. The narrator of the story does her best to go along with it, stay out of trouble, but as a handmaid, she has one of the most despised, but also powerful, positions in society. She also remembers too much about "the time before" and that makes it difficult for her. She imagines what it will be like when future handmaids have never known any other kind of life - they will cease to question it.
There are so many fantastic levels to this book, but after reading it this time around, what stood out to me the most was the descriptions of "the time before". When I first read this book, I think that I imagined it to be more similar to our own time than it actually is. As the narrator remembers her life before the current regime, she remembers details that seem like our world, but are slightly off. She describes a time when a woman tried to run off with her daughter, right in the middle of a grocery store - she thought it was a random occurance, but apparantly it was not uncommon. It was becoming clear that women were having more and more trouble having children, and those who were able to get pregnant were the truly lucky ones. Another factor is that of the Compubank. It is similar to our ATM card system, but paper money has been abolished. The narrator believes this is what gave the new government so much power. They were able to freeze the accounts of all women, not allow them access to any sort of money. It's a chilling thought. These are just a few details in a book that is rich with them.
This is a wonderful book, even if you are not a fan of alternate futures, or dystopias. If you've never read it, read it. If you have, you will always get something new from reading it again.

1 comment:

Rebecca Reid said...

I read The Handmaid's Tale last month. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I thought there were some structural things that were off that made it frustrating to read. But also I also was bothered by some details (which I'm sure was Atwood's point). Here's my review if your interested in my further thoughts.

It's been a while since I've read the other dystopian lit. I feel the need to go reread some of it so I can better compare.