A gripping vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has become one of the most powerful and most widely read novels of our time.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.
Summary from Amazon.com
There are several things about Atwood’s writing style that I don’t care for. For instance, when she’s writing about the past and people are speaking, she doesn’t put quotes around the speech. This makes it less clear what is spoken and what isn’t. While a quick reread clears things up, it pulls me out of the narrative.
There are also several instances when she changes from present to past in the same paragraph. The instance that most stands out, a person in the present lights a cigarette, then in the next sentence she says “we climbed into the car” (not exact wording). It wasn’t until a few sentences later that I realized she was talking about herself and people from her past climbing into the car. I don’t understand why the person in the present lighting a cigarette was tied to that paragraph. Maybe the short-lived confusion was part of the point, but I was always under the impression that anything that pulled the reader out of the story was baaaaaaad.
It would have been easy to make a story with this subject matter more of a horror story or an “all men are evil” story with terrible and fantastical things happening around and to the main character, but the author went with a more realistic approach which made it chilling in a different way. It was easy to step into the main character’s shoes and see how something like this could really happen. I could feel the paranoia, dread and the overall sense that while things were bad, they could be worse, so let’s just follow along.
I heard recently that they’re going to be making The Handmaid’s Tale into a movie. There’s so much happening inside the main character’s head that I wonder how they’re going to explore everything, but that’s a pretty common problem with turning a book into a movie. It’s also why some movies based on books are just flat awful. I’m anxious to see it. I’m always curious to see how they tackle these types of issues and it’s part of the reason I like to read the book before watching the movie.