Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: The Handmaiden's Tale

Author: Margret Atwood
Genre: Distopian Future Fiction
Pages: 324
Warnings: Holy shit, so much.
Rating: 4.5/5

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margret Atwood is set in a dystopian future where a fanatical religious organization has taken over the US government and enforce a restrictive hierarchy. The main character, Offred, is one of the few women left in the country who can successfully reproduce, so she's been forced into servitude. This novel is her fictional first-hand account.

There is so much I love about this novel, I have trouble picking a place to start. If there was a gun to my head, I would start with just how fucking scary this novel is. There is such horrific dehumanization of every woman in the world Offred lives in this world that I shudder to imagine something thinking about me (and my female ass) that way. We don't even know the main character's name: Offred is literally "Of Fred", Frederick being the head of her household. She has no humanity outside of being a keeper of his sperm. That is pretty damn scary, until you consider how everyone deals with this enormous decay in women's rights. They just go on. All of the characters are trying to just get through the day, and they do that by pretending all the horrible things being done to them and the people doing those things to pretend the all the horrible things being done to them by real people are just happening. Once you realize how easy it would be for people here and now to ignore on that scale, you start waking up in a cold sweat.

There's also something really amazing about Offred's narration style. Some authors find the first person perspective to be stifling, because the scope of one person is often to small to encompass the plot. Atwood doesn't fumble around trying to get Offred to listen in on the right conversations to find out what Old Man River is up to, she incorporates the supposed limitations of the 1st person narrative into her story. Only being able to see what Offred sees, we're trapped looking between the confines of her habit, and the claustrophobia a reader feels is not unlike her's. Every aspect of Offred's narrative, from her hesitant grasp on reality to the tiny window of the world she can see, is finely crafted to put the reader in her painful shoes. It's wonderful so see a story where there is not a wasted word.

I can't get enough of this book, and I expect you won't either. I won't lie to you and pretend it's an easy read, since the narrative style is intentionally a little frustrating. However this is one of those books where the feeling you get when everything Atwood has orchestrated comes together is well worth any discomfort you felt along the way. This book isn't just a good read, it's got a lot to consider about human nature at it's tasty center. And if that stirring endorsement doesn't encourage you, realize this is a realiatively short book, so dig in. 

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