Now if you’ve been following me at all in 2020 you are well aware that this has been one of those books. I’ve lost track as to how many times I’ve opened and closed this one – and just up front, the series spoiled me for the book.
I’ve known for a while now that I love dystopian fiction and anything that talks to feminine power or a threat to that power, so when I first got a glimpse of the series I knew I’d be hooked. Very early on I learned that this was based on a book as old as me – by then it was too late, I was already obsessed and had made a few recruits to the series.
Now if you know me at all you’ll know that this was totally out of character. I DO NOT, EVER (at least not intentionally) watch a movie based on a book I still mean to read. Ever. And this is why… The Handmaid’s Tale took me nine months to read – there were stops, continuations, restarts, more stops, fighting the urge to give up and final shots. The final shot worked though, I won’t lie. Left me wondering if this was a timing thing, or had I slowly started forgetting the series which meant I could finally give the written word some room, room it deserves might I add. I may never know.
In the Handmaid’s Tale we follow main character June (or at least one can enterpret this is her name), or rather Offred. The story is told from her point of view. She’s in her early to mid-thirties in a man-made ‘new world’ goverened by what we would probably call an absurd rule. She speaks to us as though she were writing a letter that detailed all (or at least most) of her everyday occurances in this ‘absurd’ new world where women are but objects and men ‘rule the world’ or so they think.
It is a sombre account of what is possible in a world where the worth of girls and women has been drilled down to their reproductive ability. Those who can reproduced are used and discarded and those who can’t are mearly discarded. Those who are not yet of child-bearing age and have the potential to reproduce are alloted to men who may never see them as much more than just machines in which babies could or could not grow.
The scary thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is its proximity to reality. Margaret Atwood doesn’t create a world of her own that can assist the reader in detaching from the possibility of such an ‘absurd’ world ever existing. Instead this new world, call it Gilead then, is built on our existing world. She does this with everything else, not just her world building but her dystopian ideology, the philosophies that govern it and so much more are built on things that already exist, perhaps not so distinctly, many may even be subtle naggings, in our daily lives. This is why her story becomes believable – we can literally see it happening, or at least I could.
Atwoood has a talent with words. Going in to the book I expected great, but in all honesty the language, the words, the phrases were exceptional. Have you ever read a line that made you drool? The Handmaid’s Tale is riddled with such brilliant lines. What she does with language also transcends just the art. From the start and throughout the narration you get the feeling of being watched, being under surviellence and as though what you and June are partaking in is forbidden, that reading her story is not something you should be doing. At the same time you can’t rid yourself of the feeling that this should not be happening to begin with.
There is a great many instances in the book where women are foils of each other. The categories under which they fall, how they are pitted against each other, how they succumb to the manufactured ranks of Gilead and how they themselves maintain a system so overtly oppressive towards their gender is most fascinating. Here and there you’ll always find the rebels, but ultimately the men seem to be sitting back and somehow this warped society they created is running itself…
The Handmaid’s Tale turns 36 this year, it is still as relevant today as it was in 1985, it is still futuristic and a grand cautionary tale that requires attention and to be taken seriously by whoever stumbles upon it. If anything Atwood has shown us the kind of world we could create, a world we should never allow to exist.