Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

I've been hammering my way through NPR's top 100 Sci-Fi and Fantasy list for a long while now. I started with books that I recognized like Interview with a Vampire and Mists of Avalon but I've reached the point in the list where I either don't recognize the title or it's part of a series. I'm still unsure weather or not I'll attempt to read whole series or just the first book of each one. I guess it'll depend on the series. 
While I was scanning the list to find something that caught my fancy I came across The Handmaid's Tale. I had heard of Margaret Atwood before, but hadn't really thought to read anything by her. Since there aren't too many women authors on that list I decided I might as well give it a try. If you asked me at the beginning of this book how I liked it I would have told you I didn't. That Offred was a little whiny and that I was lost as far as where the plot was going. 
If you asked me in the middle of this book how I liked it I would have told I was tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop. If you would have asked me how I liked this book by the end I would have told you that I just don't effing even know. 
If you would have asked me 3 days after I finished this book how I liked it I would have told you I loved it. This book was one I had to dwell on before it clicked with me. I've finally decided that Offred was whiny or a coward like I initally thought. She was a very realistic character whose thoughts and actions were completely human. If I had found myself in that situation I probably would have acted and thought similarly to her. This book is very similar to 1984 with one major exception: hope. Both books had love in them, but this story ended with hope for Offred in 1984 the only thing I hoped for was that poor Winston Smith died. That's not actual hope.
Offred might have made it out of the terror that was the Republic of Gilead. She might even have been instrumental to its downfall, but we'll never know.
What I loved most about this story is that it pointed out that the balance of power will never be fair and the people who have that power will always make exceptions for themselves and justify it anyway possible.
I plan on looking into other things Margaret Atwood has written, and because I was told that this was a feminist novel I've also decided to look into Feminism and flesh out my feelings on it. I've always sort of avoided that crowd finding most internet Feminist voices harsh, angry and judgmental, but I think it's time for me to figure out where I stand on the whole business. 
This has definitely been the first novel to provoke thoughts strong enough that I felt the need to pursue them, and that says a lot about the quality of the story.

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