Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Here’s a book that’s been around a while.  The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and I’ve been encouraged to read it several times.  Now that I’ve read it, I’m not all that sure what to think.  I did enjoy the book and I do think it was worth reading, it was just not quite what I expected.  I knew the basics of the plot but I didn’t know anything about the writing style.  Of course, it’s hard to anticipate a writing style for an author you’ve never read.  Even so, I was surprised.

The story is about Offred, a handmaid who’s sole purpose is to bear a child for the Commander and his wife.  She once lived a normal life and was married with a little girl.  When the world changed, politics changed, and the rules changed. She was separated from her husband and daughter, forced to enter the life of a handmaid.  Everything was controlled for her, she had no real freedom.  

While I enjoyed the story, I don’t know that I’d recommend it widely.  I’ve read a great deal of dystopian novels lately and I do think that the Handmaid’s Tale may have influenced several of them.  That being said, it’s a difficult story to read because we never truly get into the soul of Offred, not even enough to know her real name.  While I was able to form an image of her before everything changed, it didn’t always translate to the quiet woman that did her duty month after month.  Only towards the end when she was taking a few risks, did I feel like she was a whole person.  The bottom line is that the story is beautifully written and very thought provoking.  It’s worth reading if you haven’t already. 

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