Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is perhaps strongest in its aesthetic descriptions of life in the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian society set in New England. Gilead is a nation of biblical austerity, which fosters a sort of quasi-romance among the characters between episodes of brutality and oppression. The story warns of the dangers of extremism—of all types—because Gilead is exactly that: a backwards theocracy with a taste for the Old Testament.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood bookRead more reviews on AmazonThe writing style of The Handmaid's Tale is informal; relaxed sentence structures and quirky punctuation may distract some readers at first, but probably won't further into the novel. Atwood's use of the stream of consciousness mode seems to work well as a means of exposing the story's background.

The author's explanation of how this republic came about—through a military coup led by Christian extremists—is not particularly convincing; it may have been a stronger novel without the attempt to connect all the dots between 1980s America and Gilead. Some "historical notes" on Gilead serve as an epilogue to the story, but they are laced with dated political commentary. The strongest of which is probably the environmental cautions on nuclear and other toxic waste, which cause widespread infertility for the women in the novel.

The protagonist's abandonment of all resistance toward the end of the story cannot be admired, but it's worth noting that literature need not be inspirational or didactic—the characters in The Handmaid's Tale are not ideal but they are believable.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great book, although it's become increasingly clear that the GOP will not rest until we are living in a real world Handmaid's Tale. I used to joke about it before, but the attack on reproductive rights specifically and women's rights in general makes the reality far less comical. Another could book in a similar realm is Woman on the Edge of time. It has similar elements, although its themes are not at all subtle.