The Handmaid’s Tale
7 November 2014 3 Comments
Author: Margaret Atwood
Summary: The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all 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…
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: I was nervous about starting this book, mainly because i was wary about how angry it would make me, given the subject matter. Namely, woman being generally oppressed and specifically used for breeding. However, this aspect didn’t make me as angry as i had envisioned. Which i think is part of the reason i could only give this book three stars.
The world presented in the book is horrible, but not unbelievable. Sexism, oppression and sweeping generalisations. Totalitarianism, surveillance and lack of freedom. These things are already commonplace in the world as we know it, but in The Handmaid’s Tale they are taken to the extreme and accepted. One aspect that I couldn’t appreciate was the lack of resistance. There are whispers and hints of something in that vein, but it is all hearsay.
What held me back from enjoying the book more were the characters. The book is told from Offred’s point of view, but she and the people she describes just seem so lacklustre. For all the reminiscing about a past she misses, and a past that led her to where she is, i found Offred extremely unemotional. There was nothing about her that drew me to her; that made me like her, but at the same time, there was nothing that made me dislike her either. I concede this might be the point; that these characters [read: women] aren’t allowed to have any character. They are objects to be used and be useful, not to have feelings or opinions. Despite that, if i have no feeling for the characters, it leaves me with no feelings towards the book.
Secondary to the lacklustre characters was the bland and almost non-existent plot. The first half of the book is pure world building. It’s very good world building; I got an amazing sense for the situation Offred was living in. What i didn’t have was enough information on how and why this had happened, or what was supposed to be happening to drive the story. When things did start to happen, they were slow, unexciting and underdeveloped. Regardless of how meaningful, well-perceived and perceptive your subject matter, you need a plot, you need something to happen, you need something to drive the narrative, and the reader, forwards. I found that distinctly lacking.
It’s a depressing book, but it walks a fine line between utter despair and hopefulness that, for my liking, is never resolved. I usually enjoy an ambiguous ending, but in this case, it felt like a let down. I wasn’t invested enough to care about the ending, frankly.
This is the sixth book i’ve read from my Classics Club list