The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid. Handmaid’s are vital cogs in Gilead, they allow senior members of government to father children when their respectful Wives are unable to provide such ‘gifts’ upon them. She is part of the first generation of women to undertake such a wonderful role, undertaking training at the Red Centre and being deployed to families in need. This is what the Eyes want you to think, that these women are dutiful and bound by God to serve the greater men of society. Offred doesn’t see it this way, she had a life, a husband, a daughter and it was all ripped away, she just needed to wait, comply and bide her time.

This was a re-read for me, I read it after it was recommended to me by my A-Level English teacher at the end of our exams, the copy I have is actually one of her copies (sorry Jayne). I really enjoyed my first read through and I thought I’d get a quick read in before my copy of The Testaments arrived. Being honest, I struggled. I’m not sure if I’ve hit my reading slump of the year or I just didn’t enjoy it as much but it took me a full week to read 324 pages which would usually only take me about 3-4 days. For this book you have to be in the right mindset to fully take in the story and appreciate it, otherwise it is an exhausting read.

Switching between past and present tense narrative made it difficult as well to read. If you’re not paying too close attention it changes without realisation and parts need re-reading so that the correct context can be applied to the situation. The message behind the story is a powerful one, which at times can be a little overwhelming and disheartening at the same time mostly due to the fact the story reflects part of most women’s lives already even though this is depicted as a futuristic dystopian world.

I sound like I’m being negative about this classic piece, I think I have read it under the wrong mind and couldn’t enjoy it (although it is not intended to be enjoyable). The story is beautiful and the writing is even better. Every scene is clear without going into too much detail, Atwood has a wonderful way of referencing difficult triggers without explicitly bringing them into the light. I really enjoyed each character and their different traits that were portrayed, a personal favourite was Janine, when we see that she had fully withdrawn from her true self I felt for her, I felt for them all.

If this was my first read through I would have given it 4 stars, beautiful writing and story, although the dedication needed to read this touches on too much for me. I had to stay very focused with every sentence to make sure I was following everything going on, as it was a lot. Today, however, it is getting 3 stars which I am disappointed in myself for giving. I used to love this book but the shimmer of it seems to have faded the second time round, I only hope that The Testaments is worth the wait.

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