book review

My Thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale

I just finished The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I wanted to talk about it with you guys. This book is a classic, and incredibly influential so I don’t really feel as though my personal review would add much to the conversation. Instead I thought I’d just write some of my thoughts on my experience of reading this book, in hopes to start a discussion with you guys.

To start I bought this book second hand almost exactly a year ago. My intention was to read and finish this book shortly after I bought it. I started this book last year and got maybe 50 pages into it before I stopped. At this time I was living with housemates, as many university students do, but the situation was dissolving rapidly and tensions were pretty hostile. At this time a book mainly centred in a deeply oppressive regime, was not something I felt comfortable reading.

I passed this book along to my boyfriend and once I had moved into a single apartment (living alone with my cat is wonderful) and he encouraged me to pick it back up. I meant to but never really got around to reading it. That was until, I was listening to a book podcast and they were saying that following 2016 sales of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 skyrocketed.

This motivated me to start this book and I’m really glad for having done so. This is an incredibly compelling and thought provoking book. I think now more than ever I was motivated to reflect about woman’s rights and their perilous nature even in our world today.

I am very lucky to be a Canadian where I feel as though, I am overall supported by my government as a woman.  There are many freedoms I take for granted that women around the world and even next door  in America, which women have to fight for daily. As a Canadian I have free healthcare for any needs I may have, in school I was taught a factual and scientific curriculum in my sex-ed classes and as a woman under 25 years of age in Ontario I now have access to free oral contraceptives. I feel a bit like speaking about this might be a bit too political for a book blog but in my daily life this isn’t a political statement, these are the rights I’ve grown up with.

I think what the last few years have shown me, is that the rights I have grown up with are rights people have spent their lives fighting for, and they are hard won and  ever so tenuous. I was watching a documentary called “The Ascent of Women” (a really interesting overview and I’d recommend it!) after finishing this book, and one of its main themes is speaking to the circular nature of women’s rights and how easy it is to loose these rights in political upheaval.

The line in this book that stood out to me the most was about Serena Joy, “She doesn’t make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays at her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, not that she’s been taken at her word”. This struck me because I think there are so many people especially in American media who are displaying an increasingly polarized and outlandish view of the world because it gets them more viewers. I  think I can pretty safely assume that many media personalities don’t hold the extreme views they portray, but I honestly think some of their viewers do.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian future in which talking heads narratives have come true. Where humanities worst instincts are played out in the name of morality. This book is terribly sad, it is disturbing it’s uncomfortable  but I think it is the book we need right now.

I’m sorry this turned into a bit of a tangent, but I think this is what I love about reading a good book. I often can judge the staying power of a particular book in my mind based on how long I stare off into space contemplating it’s message, as you can probably see I think this one is here to stay.

I also feel the need to add I really loved the style of the end to this book. I thought it was a really interesting way to finish the book on such a scholarly tone. Without staying too much as to not spoil the book for those who haven’t read it, I think the ending also offered a glimpse of hope that I was not expecting. As an aside, it took me until this point where it is said explicitly to understand the nomenclature. Which felt so obvious once I saw it and I know must have been obvious to most people instantly.

I think my only issue while reading this book was the use of quotation marks throughout. I understand that this was a very deliberate action on Atwood’s part to denote certain time periods from memories, but it made my experience of reading this book a bit harder. Before this book I didn’t really realize how much I relied upon quotation marks to delineate dialogue.  I found without this aid I was almost skimming certain sections of the text and would have to go back over areas to ensure I had understood them. This is probably a personal quirk of experience, but this difficulty almost added to the dream like nature of some of Offred’s hazy memories, which I thought was an interesting if unintended effect.

Alright, so those are some of my thoughts on this wonderful book. I’m sorry this is a bit of a smattering of ideas as I went from feminism, to politics to punctuation.  But I hope you enjoyed this rambling post! And if you haven’t read it yet, I hope this might nudge you to!

Thank you so much for reading! I’d really love to hear any of your opinions or thoughts in the comments!

19 thoughts on “My Thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale”

  1. I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my Book Bucket List. About what you were saying about quotation marks: yes, we do rely on them so much to delineate dialogue, but it can be just as powerful to not use them in a dialogue situation at all, and it’s a writing style employed by Frank McCourt in his memoir “Angela’s Ashes”. The book is practically devoid of them, almost as if he’s turning what is meant to be dialogue into his own narration. Just an observation.

    I am currently reading another dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I only just started it a couple of days ago, but I’ve been waiting nearly 20 years to read it since I first heard of it. We can learn a lot from dystopian fiction, sort of a handbook on “How *Not* to Run a Society”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this book as well for many of the same reasons you listed.I accidentally skipped the ending when I first read it because I thought it was one of those “extras” at the ends of the book and I was frustrated with where it left off! Then I realized it was the actual ending and went back.

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  3. I’m studying this book as an English Literature student, and the most interesting thing I’ve found about it is that Atwood based every single thing on some real aspect of history. So like, Handmaids are a real actual thing that happened at some point.

    “When it first came out it was viewed as being far-fetched. However, when I wrote it I was making sure I wasn’t putting anything into it that humans had not already done somewhere at some time.”

    It’s kinda terrifying tbh.

    (Ik I’m literally trawling through your blog today, I keep meaning to read posts then forgetting and doing it all in one go :/ )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so interesting! I knew certain things rang of truth as I was reading and I imagined many of them must have been inspired by hitsory but I didn’t know how carefully she had done it!
      It really is quite scary!
      Also trawl all you like lol! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good review. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my most favourite books and I recommend it to so many people. I know I’ve said it a million times but I read it over 12 years ago now and it still stays with me. There’s certain lines of dialogue that I still remember very clearly. I think some of that may be because I was studying it for my English Literature A-Levels though so after months and months of reading text it has stuck! It hit a chord with me though back then and what’s frightening is the strange reality of it all.
    There are either elements of other cultures present or of biblical practices and that’s what makes it so scary. I said to some friends once that I sometimes feel The Handmaid’s Tale is a horror book. Some of my female friends who had read it could see where I was coming from. Interestingly a few male friends who had also read it, couldn’t. I think even now there is a large part of society that views women through the lens of reproductive freedom. You either can reproduce and should and if you can reproduce and don’t there is something wrong with you. And if you can’t reproduce… well then.. But no matter what a woman decides to do there is criticism anyway.
    I find it fascinating and terrifying that the themes in the book remain fascinating and terrifying but I love The Handmaid’s Tale with such a passion because I felt it changed something fundamental in me when I read it aged 18.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I can see how this is the sort of book to make a lasting impression upon someone.

      I can definitely see where you are coming from with thr horror aspect and I really agree with the sentiment!

      Reproduction as a women always seems like a damned if you do or damned if you don’t. It’s an incredibly personal topic that seems so bizzarly political. Which I think is one of the main issues, is that it is seen as a political issue rather then a choice.

      Thank you for the insightful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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