Genres: Adult fiction, dystopian, science fiction.
It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now…everything has changed.
I found The Handmaid’s Tale to be one of the most compelling books I’ve ever read and definitely one of my favourites of this year.
In a world that has reverted back to a day where totalitarianism is commonplace and accepted, women known as “handmaids” are given (literally) to elite couples that are unable to have children, with the sole purpose of reproducing for them. If they do not fulfil this purpose, they are sent to the “colonies” to either work in agriculture or clear up toxic pollution, which eventually kills them. Patriarchy is at the root of all laws and so the freedom of all women, not just handmaids, is severely restricted. There is severe punishment (including death) for those who disobey.
Absolutely nothing in the novel was unbelievable, which is mainly why it is so terrifying. Atwood writes about some circumstances that may seem extreme and distant to us but are currently present in “other” countries and societies. Atwood has then applied these circumstances to a futuristic United States. This enables us to fully grasp the implications of control of freedom, especially sexual freedom, because whether we admit it or not, the events that bring out the most emotion in us are those that happen to us directly. This is partly why I loved this book so much. It is an important text to advocate women’s rights, it’s a text to create awareness, and it does it by using one of my favourite genres.
Another reason is that the novel is also extremely intelligent. I couldn’t help but notice that every phrase, every word, every object, every character, every dialogue had its purpose. Nothing was there without good reason, from finding out that Offred’s name is not just oddly futuristic (“Of Fred” as in “Property of Fred”) to describing a football stadium and redbrick walls (as way of showing that the story is set near an abandoned Harvard University).
I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s just brilliant.
My Rating: ★★★★★