Friday, February 5, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 311
What you'll love: Being inside the main character's head, following her thoughts.
What will bug you: Sometimes there are quotation marks, sometimes there aren't.

Loved it! A strong recommendation from my friend, Christy, and now a strong recommendation from me to you.

A fanatical religious group has taken control of parts of what was once the United States - now the Republic of Gilead. Under this new order, women hold no value to society, other than their ability to reproduce. Women are classified into three major groups - Wives (wives of the Commanders), Marthas (basically cooks/maids - women who are not fertile), and Handmaids. Handmaids live in houses with Command
ers and their Wives, and are forced into monthly rituals where they must pray for the Commander to make them pregnant. If they are unable to reproduce, they become "Unwomen" and are sent away from society. "The Handmaid's Tale" is told by a Handmaid named Offred. Her story is of her life in the Republic of Gilead, and also of her life before - where she had a husband, daughter, and a job.

I researched the book a little - as I sometimes do - before starting it. One description I read over and over again was "stream of consciousness". I totally agree, there is a real sense of being inside the main character's head and sometimes jumping from idea to idea. I loved it.

I found the whole concept of the Republic of Gilead to be quite disturbing. Atwood creates a world
that feels very real, and very scary. The idea that ritualized rape was being justified in the name of religion was baffling.

There were many reviews I read where people interpreted this novel as a slam against Christianity. I did not feel like this was the case. I think the concept could have been equally effective using a justification other than religion. I think the point of the story could have come across without using women or religion at all. I did not believe the point was to warn against Christianity, but to warn against extremism. There are groups everywhere - of all kinds - that if allowed to rule would spiral out of control

Atwood writes very well. As I said about "Alias Grace", even as the storyline details fade from your mind, the images and pictures created by the author remain very fresh. While reading "The Handmaid's Tale" I was in the Republic of Gilead. I felt very immersed.

One little complaint - of course I have to find
something!!! Sometimes Atwood uses quotation marks, sometimes she doesn't. It drive me a little crazy, especially when she doesn't. It's hard to decipher which character is speaking, and where the spoken sentence ends and the internal thoughts begin. It's a small complaint, not really a big deal, but still a little annoying.

A great read! Thanks, Christy!

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