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The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood



Posted September 1, 2016 by

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood – 1985

Reviewed by: Stefan Bruda         Date: 30 June 2003

Doubleplus ungood.

I really admire Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. That’s one reason for not liking Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The other reason is that the only consequence of reading the thing was 1 (one) question: what was it about again?

The novel is about a dystopian future featuring a fundamentalist Christian regime. Kind of the Bible Belt, only wider (both geographically and ideologically). Except for this twist (and for the low-tech society) just read Nineteen Eighty-Four and you get the picture alright. There is a governing, all-male caste, of course. Their wives are sometime sterile, so their place (vagina-wise) are taken by “handmaids.” One of them (the main character) tells her story, and that’s everything there is to it.

HandmaidOrwell invents a complex society, a new language. They are frightening. They are explained. They provoke you to think about them and then they make sense on a logical level. Winston Smith fights the society. He loses too, which is inevitable. Atwood’s society is not explainable, nor is it amenable to a logical explanation (what is to explain about religious fundamentalism?). The heroine merely survives, remembers the past at times, and eventually escapes to Canada to write her memoirs. About the only philosophical concept that appears now and then is feminism. Feminism is nice but it cannot in my opinion support a whole novel otherwise devoid of ideas.

For me as a Canadian it is kind of nice to have Canada as a sane place to escape to, but that does not compensate for the happy ending. Dystopiae do not have happy endings, they (the happy endings that is) defy the whole idea. Indeed, an escapable dystopia is no longer a dystopia, is just an inconvenient, but otherwise temporary state. (Sorry, by the way, about revealing the plot. I did it only because it becomes clear after the first twenty pages anyway.)

A couple of years ago I gave to my mom as a present one of the Atwood’s novels (don’t quite remember which one). Mom is an avid but critical reader. This time not only she read it in no time, but she also kept telling me how much she enjoys reading the thing. The enjoyment lasted until the book was finished, time at which she called me and told me that it was a nice distraction, but in the end there nothing left. This pretty much summarized my opinion to date about most of Atwood’s novels, and in particular about The Handmaid’s Tale (which only proves that I am the son of my mom I guess).

To conclude, my general (and relative) un-fondness of Atwood aside, do yourself a favour and read The Edible Woman instead of The Handmaid’s Tale.

ReadLit Team


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