Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood was first published in 1985. I knew nothing about this book, except it featured on many "classic" book lists, and I did not watch the recent TV series.

The Handmaid's Tale is set in the USA in the 21st century and is sometimes described as being science fiction although I would not classify it as belonging to this genre. The author describes the book as "speculative fiction". In the novel, the American government has been overthrown by a fundamentalist Christian movement and the theocratic state of Gilead created. This society is a very controlled one in which no-one has any freedom. People are constantly supervised by the Eyes and any transgressions dealt with severely. Women are subjugated and cannot hold property, read or do anything which might allow them to become subversive or independent.

In the Republic of Gilead people are split into rigidly defined groups. Men are Commanders, Guardians, Angels (soldiers) or Eyes. Women are Wives (of Commanders), Handmaids, Marthas or Econowives. The narrator is a Handmaid called Offred, meaning belonging to Fred, but we are never told her real name. The role of the Handmaids is to bear children for the Wives as fertility has dropped as a result of pollution and radiation.

I found this book very though provoking and still very relevant today - perhaps even more so considering what is currently happening in the United States. The book is well written and I liked how we gradually find out what happened to Offred in her previous life. The book reminded me of 1984 by George Orwell as the characters in both books could trust no-one and felt they were always being spied upon. I liked Atwood's description of the characters, especially Offred, and was optimistic that she did escape at the end of the story.

I feel that this book is certainly worthy of the title "classic" and I look forward to reading more books by Margaret Atwood in the future.

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