Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
311 pages

The United States is a completely different world in this book. A military group takes over and everything is changed from a country much like the one we are currently in (except perhaps with more open sexual displays) to one where women are stripped of their jobs, money, and significant others (unless you are in your first heterosexual marriage). The US is renamed the Republic of Gilead. Women are not allowed to be single or live on their own. They are put into a position in society such as a Wife who is married to a ranking officer, a Martha who is a cook/maid in the house, an Econowife married to a poor man, or a Handmaid who is there to conceive a child with the ranking officer. Each caste of women have a specific dress code. The Wives wear blue, Marthas are in green, and Handmaids are in red. This ensures that everyone knows the caste of everyone else.

This story is told by Offred (a name that means she is the Handmaid of Fred, the Commander). She is living at the home of the Commander and it is her third and final chance to conceive a child or else she will be relocated to The Colonies and be declared an Unwoman (infertile woman, unfit for integration into Gilead society). This society structure is a fairly recent occurrence (within the past 10 or less years it seems) so Offred still remembers her past life with her husband (a divorcee), daughter, books (Handmaids aren't allowed to read), and job. It's so sad reading about how Offred (her former name is never revealed) remembers her past life and feels those memories slipping away.

Like any other society, people are corrupt. Offred, like other Handmaids before her, is coerced into spending time with the Commander during the night at times other than the "ceremony" which takes place once a month in attempt to get Offred pregnant. She also begins a relationship with the chauffeur, Nick, which was started by the Wife in order to increase Offred's chances of conceiving. Offred continues to see Nick without the knowledge of the Wife and without knowing whether he is an Eye (member of the Internal Intelligence Agency) or a member of the resistance who can help her.

I'm glad that I read this book since it knocked another one of the 1001 list for me (total up to 17 now!) but, I didn't LOVE it. I was wrapped into it throughout most of the book, but I think that that was only because I was so curious to understand all the parts of Offred's world and what would happen to her. Everything was revealed very slowly since Offred was narrating and revealing things as she remembered them or came across them. I guess sometimes I like rules of the society in the book laid out for me ahead of time. The other thing that bothered me was the ending. The last chapter written by Offred ends with her being taken away. Then it goes to a chapter which is a speaker in the future giving a lecture on Gilead society. It's obvious that the Republic of Gilead came to end but I wasn't really told how or what happened. Also, I never found out exactly what happened to Offred, which just bothers me! You would think that after the rave review of 2666 which had an ending that didn't really resolve a whole lot, I wouldn't mind this ending but man! It bugs me A LOT. I guess I just got attached to Offred so much that I just wanted to know that she ended up okay. Nothing wrong with that I suppose!

7 out of 10 stars


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