Book Review: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. A wool blanket.” 

I’m disappointed to say I’d never read this book until now, for my Year of Reading Women. I’d heard of it, of course. A United States that has fallen, the President assassinated, Congress assassinated – the Pastors step in. Dystopian, fundamentalist Christian enclaves spring up. This novel is a warning, and a reminder, like all good science fiction (or speculative fiction, as Margaret Atwood would insist.) It is also brilliant and has fantastic literary qualities, beautiful prose (which are perhaps why Atwood strives to avoid the SciFi Ghetto.) It reminds me of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, but with Huxley’s inherent racism turned around, as a misogynist society strives to keep women in their place. An American Taliban.

A reminder of how quickly this could happen.
This is Afghanistan in the 1970s.

The Republic of Gilead is a white Christian man’s paradise. Offred is a Handmaid, in the service of her Commander and his Wife. She is allowed to leave the house only to go shopping for what meagre rations her coupons permit her. Each day, permit in hand, head lowered, she passes the Guardians, teenage boys with submachine guns. In her blood-red habit she meets with another Handmaid (they can go nowhere alone, they are women, after all) and they go shopping.

The Handmaid’s only task is to bear children. They’ve taken all the ceiling fixtures, the rods from the cupboards. She is not allowed a knife – they’ve lost too many Handmaids.

This novel is gripping, a terrifying glimpse of dystopia, of control and of hidden societies.

Right up my alley, then.

I loved it.

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” 

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. Christi says:

    I’ve loved this story for years. Margaret Atwood does such a beautiful job of describing the world she’s created. Your Afghanistan comparison really is spot on.

  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    I recommend Suzy Mckee Charnas’ Walk to the End of the World (1974) — it has the same basic principle, post-apocalyptic world where women are the slaves. It’s literary (at points) and fantastic…

  3. toppersbooks says:

    I love this book as much as it terrifies me. Margaret Atwood is truly brilliant. And I love the “Year of Reading Women” project.

  4. […] authors can’t write genre fiction, you’re desperately wrong. Let me point you toward Margaret Atwood, Ursula K Le Guin or Alexis Wright. And if you refuse (as some people do) I’ll tell you to go […]

  5. […] This review originally appeared on Chris White Writes. […]

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