Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood

Synopsis: The Handmaid's Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population. 

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment's calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid's Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best

This book was my choice for a "classic" for my April Dystopia month. And while it is hard to call a book written in 1985 a classic, I have wanted to read this one for a very long time, and it is very different from our modern dystopian books that we are seeing so much lately. In fact it is unlike anything I have ever read.

The first thing that made this book different is the tone and style of how it is written. It has this poetic elegance to it and it reads with this almost rhythmic feeling as if it had a rhyme scheme. All of this added to the tone of the book that can only be described as haunting. Margaret Atwood wrote a book and a world that is terrifying, interesting, and thought-provoking. The events and tone left me feeling uneasy but in the best possible way. Like a lot of other fantastic books, this one hits you in both the heart and the head. 

The other thing that was unique about this book was the protagonist and MC. The book reads like a diary or testimony of Offred, a woman living in a near-future world. The book is written from her perspective but she's very honest about how she doesn't remember the details perfectly. She's a good old-fashioned unreliable narrator that makes you question everything that happens and wonder how much is really true or how much of the "reconstruction" is purely in her imagination. A few times you even have events explained multiple times. The unreliable nature of her and the story add to the haunting and confusing nature of the book, I had "huh face" a lot of the time while reading and it left me both interested and intrigued.

Even more intriguing is this world. With a lot of dystopian novels these days it's all about the action and adventure but this book is all about the world. In a good dystopia the world leaves you as a reader wondering if, and frankly fearing, that this world is possible. In this world population is so low women are both valued and treated as objects or vessels to have babies. Things have devolved into a sort of puritanical theocracy where religion sets the tone and women aren't allowed to read, wear pants, and drink or smoke. As previously stated it's a near-future world and because it is written nearly 30 years ago I can't help but think that they're talking about now. That's always a weird thing and often takes me out of the story if these things haven't occurred yet but in the case of The Handmaid's Tale the world felt like it stood the test of time and felt scary and possible. This world deepens the haunting nature of the book.  

All of this added to this feeling of confused enjoyment and when the book was finished the ending left me with a "WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED." feeling that I haven't had since The Life of Pi. It wasn't quite a book hangover but it totally messed with me head and left my brain mush. 

I give The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood an 8.5 out of 10

I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a dystopia story that isn't so action-packed, if you like unreliable narrators, or if you are looking for a book to make you think. If you have read The Handmaid's Tale leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Wow!!! Great review!!! I haven't read any of Margaret Atwood's books yet but I have been really wanting too. I even went out last weekend and bought Oryx and Crake. I even borrowed The Handmaid's Tale from the library a couple months ago but didn't have the time to read it :(
    Now, after the mentioning and with your review of this book, I'm really eager to read it!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing. Happy Hump day :) xoxoxox
    Stop by and Check out my W.O.W ;)
    Michelle @ Book Hangover Blabs Books

    1. Thanks Michelle! You should definitely read The Handmaid's Tale, it's fantastic. It makes you think and feel. I really liked it.

  2. Can't believe I have actually never read anything from Margaret Atwood, considering I love the classics genre. I know this one's one of our most popular works, so I probably should get on it.