Tuesday, May 01, 2007

'The Handmaid's Tale'

by Margaret Atwood

paperback, Vintage UK, 292 p.

WINNER of the Governor General's Award for Fiction 1985, Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 1986

(Book #15 for 2007, Book #2 for the Banned Book Challenge, Book #1 for the O'Canada Challenge)
“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, is what he says. We thought we could do better.
Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better?
Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs. . . . .

My third Dystopian SciFi Novel this year (the other 2 were Fahrenheit 451, and Nineteen Eighty-Four), and this one was, for me, the most compelling. The ‘future’ she presents here is frighteningly believable, with fertile women essentially forced into being nothing but breeding machines.
“We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.”
Of course there are already religious regimes that severely restrict women, but this story brings that loss of freedom and human rights closer to home and made me think about the role of women in society, and attitudes towards them, especially regarding sexuality.

Regularly on lists of the most challenged books in the US, primarily for sexual content, this extensive list of objections from PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools) is enlightening/amusing. In addition to being "saturated with sexual allusions, innuendos, crude references, and seven actual sex acts described, one more than a page long", references to suicide, drugs, drinking and smoking, profanity and being a vicious attack on Christianity, "there is also a very detailed account of giving birth, and a graphic description of the menstrual cycle", heaven forbid! :P (click on the link for more)

After reading and hating The Blind Assassin a few years ago, I steered clear of Atwood for awhile, convinced I didn’t like her style. Then I read Oryx and Crake for a book group a couple of years ago and didn’t hate it. Since The Handmaid’s Tale is the book of hers that everyone always seems to suggest, I finally decided to read it thanks to the extra nudge from the Banned Book and O’Canada Challenges. And I’m glad I did as it was definitely worth the read. I’m sure the image of the handmaid will stay with me for some time. So while I’m still not convinced I love Atwood, I’m certainly more receptive to reading some of her other books in future.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Rebecca Reads
Melody's Reading Corner


  1. It took me two tries, but I really loved The Handmaid's Tale when I finally read it. Really interesting book.

    Glad you liked it!

  2. Of the three Dystopic books you listed, I'm with you -- I liked The Handmaid's Tale the best. And, again like you, I'm not sure I love Atwood, but for whatever reason, I continue to read her stuff. Didn't care for The Blind Assasin, but thought Oryx and Crake was pretty good. The Edible Woman was a bit odd.

  3. I read The Edible Woman many years ago, but have had a hard time reading any of her other works. This sounds very interesting, though, so I think I need to give her another chance.

  4. Andi,
    I resisted it for so long, it was nice to finally read it and actually like it!

    Like minds? I wonder if we like The Handmaid's Tale better because it focuses on women? But I do think the writing was better too. The other book of hers that I already have here is Surfacing, which I've heard is pretty dark.

    I resisted it for a long time but it really is quite thought-provoking. Interesting how a lot of people seem to have trouble reading her.

  5. I found some great fiction book reviews. You can also see those reviews in Fiction book reviews

  6. Nat, I agree, it can take some getting used to Atwood. She's a clever writer no doubt, but she gives me the impression that she so loves flaunting her intelligence, which can be a tad annoying to a humble reader like me, lol. However, I do enjoy her books for her unusual subject matter. My favorites are "Oryx and Crake", "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Penelopiad".

  7. Lotus,
    Yes I get that impression too. She's not someone I would ever want to know in 'real life'. :P
    But I won't be quite as resistant to reading another of her books someday.

  8. The Handmaid's Tale scared the you-know-what out of me. I really liked it though. I'm not likely to forget it any time soon.

  9. i LOVED this book, we are doing a choice banned book in my 11th grade advanced english class and my friend and I choose this book and couldn't put it down!!!

  10. i loved The Handmaid's Tale when i read it a number of years ago - but i don't think i've read anything else Atwood has written. i was thinking of putting one of hers on my Book Awards Reading Challenge list (which i've got to get put together soon).

  11. Alisonwonderland,
    I've only read a couple of her other books. Oryx and Crake is another future dystopia story which was pretty good. The Blind Assassin won the Booker but I really didn't like it. I also read Alias Grace ages ago and really liked that one, it's historical fiction. She's kind of hit or miss with me.
    The Book Awards Challenge should be fun, but I've already been playing around with my list since I posted it.

  12. While I liked the book, I also can't really say I loved it. My "not loving it" stems from some of those reasons the parents didn't like it. But that certainly doesn't mean I think it should be banned.

    Cool cover! I hadn't seen that one.

  13. Rebecca - I do think it's a worthwhile read. It's scary to think that something like that could happen! Thanks for stopping by, I've added a link to your review.


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