“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood wrote a devastating and greatly depressing dystopian world that begs to be taken seriously with its unprecedented ability to depict a possible and near future. Written through the eyes of a protagonist who goes by the name of Offred, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a bleak, colourless and entrapped reality where women only have one purpose: to breed. In this totalitarian society where women are stripped of their most basic rights, individuals revert to traditional values in order to keep every single women in check. Offred, severed of her husband and child, adapts into a community where she deceptively pretends to be perfectly submissive, while her thoughts beg to differ. It is what goes on in her own mind that brings great depth and insight into this story that revolves not only around the political atmosphere of this vile reality, but the total control of sexuality. The Handmaid’s Tale easily goes down as a classic dystopian story that can be seen as being in the same vein as 1984 or Brave New World. This is a story of survival and a hunt for freedom and power, one that will jolt the dead back to life and one that will greatly touch the hearts of many, especially women.
“The writing is more than excellent with the hastiness of raw but fitting words, and a dark irony that describes an atmosphere as much vicious as distressing. I loved the use of key sentences throughout the story that forces me to take control of my rhythm, to slow down and to ponder on a problematic that is much grander and global than the one the narrator describes.”
— Trang, Co-blogger
It’s insane how The Handmaid’s Tale presents this outrageous and mind-baffling world. The story jumps back and forth from flashback sequences to present times as seamlessly as possible. I found myself hooked by the bits and pieces of information that are given through the reconstructions of past events told by Offred. It’s getting these thin layers of information regarding how things came to be that made my reading experience so captivating and had me hungry for more. Margaret Atwood does an impeccable job at progressively unveiling the rules by which the society she creates abide by. The story easily becomes much more alarming as we slowly grasp the underlying traditions and norms that keeps these women caged within their own minds—but that’s where you quickly understand that the only safe place for these women is within their own minds. While the world binds these women within a patriarchal system, I also couldn’t help but notice an underlying matriarchal system within it that forces women to be obedient, passive and disconnected from their own bodies. The possibility that these women could ever possess anything is sacrilegious, but Offred finds ways to bypass such restrictions to the point of making it at times very woeful and staggering.
“I had an issue with the pacing. I know that it isn’t something that everyone had issues with, but I found the first 100 pages slow. It might also be due to the fact that I was reading Norse Mythology right before. The redundant elements of Offred’s day was also hard to get through. Especially in the beginning when she introduces us to her universe. Some passages seemed irrelevant, for example: ‘The bedroom is beside the bathroom.’”
— Trang, Co-blogger
I was warned through multitudes of individuals that the writing could potentially not be my cup of tea. Surprisingly, I ended up adapting and enjoying Margaret Atwood’s style. As previously mentioned, the story is recounted by Offred as she attempts to reconstruct the life she used to live and the one she’s forced to live. Reading and writing remain forbidden in this world, as they inevitably give individuals ideas and challenges conformity. Their thoughts however remain their own, but they still have the burden to pick their words wisely when communicating with others. Their are eyes everywhere and the slightest slip could put them in jeopardy or anyone who build an alliance with her. Margaret Atwood does an unbelievable job at making certin thoughts seem so taboo, forbidden and yet so sensual. The most mundane things in our lives are exquisite and seductive in The Handmaid’s Tale. This opens our eyes at how much we take so much for granted in our every day lives. Words become weapons of mass destruction in a reality that censors them. In fact, words become a tool of power, while the bodies of these women become a political tool, one that remains disconnected from these handmaids.
“The themes were exposed clearly, and the author, in my opinion, purposely put these elements forward. The taboo, the freedom, the rights of women, the sexuality and especially how Margaret Atwood approaches the theme of women appearance are all present.”
— Trang, Co-blogger
There’s also another flagrant element in Margaret Atwood’s writing style that just popped into my face as I was reading: quotation marks. It’s the lack of use of these that makes the reading mysteriously confusing whenever Offred includes dialogues into her reconstruction of reality. While at first it was disconcerting and had me reading twice—I tend to read dialogues differently to the rest of the narrative—I ended up understanding its purpose; intentional, true, or not. In fact, from what I came to see, Offred uses quotation marks only for events she lives in real time, where she’d able to reproduce word for word what certain individuals, including herself, would say. However, whenever she recounts moments from the past through flashbacks, a much more hazy and obscure image is presented thanks not only to the unsettling events that take place, but also to her inability to trust her own memory. I haven’t tried to flip through the book again to make sure this is exactly what it was, but it did make a lot more sense to me. Furthermore, the writing style in the present time is very sharp on details. This is completely comprehensible when you put yourself in Offred’s shoes, a woman who’s ability to freely express herself is proscribed. Her attention to the smallest details, and her need to recount them, in a continuous, fluid and restless manner—with a unrestrained use of commas—brings you to understand the value of these simple details that we overlook on a daily basis.
“The ending was magnificent! Even if we could see a lot of similarities with 1984, I find the ending was a gift from the author. It was very uncertain, and left us to speculate about. The simple fact that she makes us question the veracity of Offred’s narrative is enough to make us doubt, but also after having been inside the head of Offred, to have lived her story, even if there were false facts, I couldn’t help myself from taking her side and to believe her. The ending is a way to team up with the narrator, which contrasts with the detached style that we’ve known since the beginning of the book.”
— Trang, Co-blogger
Shocking to its core, the prose in The Handmaid’s Tale is breath-taking. It is a beautiful yet disgusting vision of a world where it wouldn’t take much to flip a switch and turn it into an nonviable reality. This is a very feminist-oriented tale that remains relevant even in our time and age, but will strongly connect even more with women more than men. It doesn’t shy away from its desire to bring light to possibilities and questions that have yet to know a consensus, but its power to capture such a ignoble view is what should drive everyone to give this book a shot. There is a lot to learn from this story, but Margaret Atwood definitely solidifies her position as one of the most influencing writers of all time, and one that knows how to write a story that will force you to think about your own abilities, your own freedoms and your own existence. The Gilead is the last thing our world needs, but it’s the first thing we should all know about.
Have you started the show yet? Be on the lookout for our The Handmaid’s Tale TV Show Review coming out soon! 😉
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MY OVERALL RATING: ★★★★☆/