A Handmaid’s Tale – by Margarat Atwood

In My Unhelpful Opinion – A Shitty Book Review

When I decided to make this entry my first publication on my new blog (yay!) I had the image in my head that it was going to be this profound, inspired piece of work that is well-written, and reflective of the years that I spent in university getting a higher education. Fuck that, my response to this book is raw and needs to be written as such.

When I was just over half way through the book, I updated how I felt about it to my friend, who has read all of Atwood’s books. I described it as such:
Me: “Reading it is like being a metaphorical frog in boiling water.”
Her: “Wtf you talking about?”
Me: “You start reading this book, and you’re waiting for a plot to emerge and
understand what  the heck is going on. Then all of a sudden you realize you can’t                     stop reading and anxious to find out what is happening next.”

The Handmaid’s Tale was an excellent book. I guess it is important to understand that this is the first of Atwood’s books that I actually read as a physical hard copy. I listened to the MaddAddam trilogy as audio books and absolutely loved them. However, I am thrilled that my friend made me actually read this one. The narration is disjointed, and Atwood’s lack of using quotation marks when people are speaking tend to give the conversations more and less meaning.

My initial response to finishing the book was a mixture of being super pissed off and annoyed both at how it ended (books that leave more question unanswered than answered is incredibly aggravating) and at the protagonist. Offred (Of-Fred – took me to the end of the book to understand this name. I kept reading it as Off-red) is the narrator of the story, giving the account of her life both in the present day and of the past. She tells the Commander that in order to continue to risk her life to see him, she wants to “know what is going on.” At this point in the book is where I’m like – “Right on! We’re getting somewhere now!” Then, just as Offred was disappointed with the Commander’s request to play Scrabble with him (her wanting to burst of laughter of how mundane it is) we are brought into the “black market”. Which is essentially just a Men’s Club. A freaking men’s club. That’s it. Prostitution and illegal goods will apparently always have a place in society.

You’re sitting there reading this book and wondering why she is bothering to tell us her story. She doesn’t uncover some super secret conspiracy. You learn about the Mayday group, but Offred is indifferent to the group as a romance with another character comes about and she is able to confide in him about her life. And this is where you understand our passive protagonist. She is lonely. She had her family torn apart and is used as a “uterus with legs” and needed companionship. While she is not a believer in whatever messed up extremist religious sect took over, she has no desire to help bring it down.

Now I am calling this a review so I should write something about the book too. As I stated before, it was the first book of Atwood’s that I actually read. So for those people who haven’t read her before, not having quotation marks when there is a conversation being had gets confusing. I had to reread a few pages here and there before I got used to it. It also flows back and forth from the present to the past, because as you find out in the end, “The Handmaid’s Tale” was an audio recording, which when you finish the books, allows everything to fall in place. When the book first started I felt really frustrated by the lack of a plot. But there can’t really be a true plot from Offred can there? She, as a woman in this world, literally has no rights. Her only purpose for existing is to have a baby. That she doesn’t even get to raise. She can’t be touched by anyone other than the Commander and his Wife. She can’t hold property or have money (not that it has any value).  As I described earlier, she has no will to overtake her oppressors. She never even tells us her name.

Anyway, in my unhelpful opinion this book is awesome. It makes you feel a bunch of very conflicting emotions, it is a wonderfully written, and provides succulent brain food.