Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I remember my brother reading this his senior year of high school. At the time, I was a sophomore, and big time into epic fantasy. (These days, it’s the same, only now I’m sophomoric instead of just a sophomore.) The cover looked boring as all get out, and he said he didn’t really enjoy the book. Too gloomy. That was enough for me to put it on my “Books I Never Really Want to Read” list, where it stayed happily for years.

Until a few things happened.

First off, Hulu adapted the book, and I heard a lot of great buzz around the adaptation. Pair that with the chance to view the book in a new light (It’s dystopian? That’s cool. And it’s like 1984? Even cooler.) And then add in the fact that I’d like to think I’ve matured as a reader, and combine it all with the book going on sale a few weeks ago on Kindle, and apparently that’s what it takes for a book to be removed from my “Books I Never Really Want to Read” list. (Maybe Anne of Green Gables still has a chance. Is it dystopian?)

I finished the book a week ago, and it’s really stuck with me. I’m so glad I read it, especially in light of today’s political atmosphere. It’s always scary to me just how good authors can be at thinking through what might realistically happen in the future. Atwood wrote this in 1985, and yet it feels so fitting to the rhetoric of today. How people might use religion as a blunt instrument to tyrannize the country. How women could swiftly be relegated to second, third, or fourth class citizens. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening in America now, but if you went back in time 3 years and told me what America would look like today, I would have said you were crazy.

And yet here we are.

This book is fantastic. It’s definitely based on a mature subject, and it’s not a light read, but I feel like it’s an important one. Just to gain perspective on what might happen and what sort of effects decisions we make could have. The characters are well drawn and compelling, but it’s the setting that really sets this book above and beyond other things I’ve read. The society is so fully realized through a limited perspective. Just an amazing job for an author to pull off.

The premise is straightforward: in the near future, a religious fervor swept through the country, changing laws and attitudes. The net result is that women were stripped of the right to own money and make their own decisions. Adultery and other sins are punishable by death. Birth rates have plummeted due to pollution, and to combat that, the government has forced some women to become Handmaid’s: governmentally approved birthing vessels, essentially. They go from man to man, stay with him for a year or so and do their best to get pregnant. I could go on, but it really needs to be experienced firsthand. It’s told (obviously) from the point of view of one of the Handmaid’s, weaving in her experiences in the present with what happened to her in the past.

So if you were like me and trying to avoid the book because of the boring cover, it’s time to grow up. Give it a shot. It’s a fantastic read. 10/10

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