Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

"There is more than one kind of freedom," said Aunt Lydia. "Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are given freedom from. Don't underrate it."


I've been meaning to read this book for a while because dystopias. On the other hand, I anticipated it being a depressing experience so I've not been in any hurry to do it... And yeah, it was pretty grim.

The Handmaid's Tale is another one of those always upsettingly current dystopian books like Brave New World and 1984 (The Handmaid's Tale was written in 1984, which Margaret Atwood said was 'corny'). It's set in a world in which women have been stripped of their autonomy, prohibited from reading, owning things, and 'freedom to'. Any sort of plot synopsis honestly feels like I'd be butchering this story, because there's so much depth to it that I could analyse it for hours and still be just at the tip of the iceberg. Here we go anyway.

Offred, the main character who never gets an actual name, is placed as a handmaid for a Commander to give him and his wife a child. She is of the unfortunate transfer period as the country that was the United States of America becomes the Republic of Gilead. She had a husband and a child and a life, so she's able to sharply contrast the current world order to the old and is unwilling to accept the change the way she should.

It's purposefully vague and somewhat out of order, and you find out about the world bit by bit. I thought it would annoy me at first, but after I got into it, I was so interested in finding out more, even if it was at a slower pace.

'It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.'

The book has a very heavily metafictional epilogue of sorts which I don't want to further spoil from you, but it's very interesting and intelligent. It was so metafictional that I thought the book had ended and I was listening to the afterword.

The actual afterword by Atwood on this book was also very enlightening. She says that she was inspired by her travels behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and she was determined not to add any concepts, ideas or technology that did not already exist. It's set in the US because it's her way of retaliating against the 'it couldn't happen here' mentality of the people she told about her experiences. She also calls it an anti-prediction: if a story like this can be told in such a detail, then maybe we can make sure it won't become reality. I'm definitely on board with that.

All in all, The Handmaid's Tale is a very harrowing read, with kind of an open ending. It plays on human emotion and humans themselves, and I find I keep thinking about it almost every day, even now that I finished it some two weeks ago. When is it acceptable to start reading again a book you just finished?

I gave this a 5/5 without thinking about it much, because I'm not sure if a book has ever affected me quite so much. It's probably my favourite dystopia, and I read quite a lot of those. I'd recommend it without qualms to anyone and everyone, though I'm not sure how the reading experience would change if you were not a woman and inherently, Offred.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 12: A book about politics and politicians. Because at least in part, that's what this book is, among so many other things. Politics.

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