My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This has been a difficult book for me to finish, took me quite a long time to finish. I suspected as much, and therefore, instead of reading it on my own, I read it with a Book Club / Facebook Group. The thing is, I rarely pick up a book which is outside my comfort zone, by which, I mean that I mostly pick up books which comfort me, make me feel happy. If I pick it up, there is no guarantee that I will finish it. And I knew that this wasn’t the feel-good kind of book I choose most of the time. I might have put it down out of the sadness that this book brings, but reading with a group brings a wafer thin layer of accountability, and so I persisted.
The book is odd. Not in the sense that it’s overly complex or uses obnoxious or pretentious language, but rather in the sense that it is scary and emotionally taxing from a woman’s perspective. It is set in a Dystopian state of Gilead. There are too many adjectives that one can throw here – Dystopian, futuristic, dark and worryingly prophetic.
The story is narrated by Offred ( Of-Fred, Fred being the commander to whose household she has been assigned as a handmaid ) and is set in times when an extremist group who calls themselves “the Sons of Jacob” ( probably refers to the story of Genesis about Rachel, Jacob and Bilhah, I am not sure) overthrows the Constitution of the United States and puts in place a military dictatorship of sorts. Her class of women, called the Handmaids, is kept strictly for reproductive purposes. Human rights are extremely curtailed and women’s rights are non-existent, women cannot read or work or spend any money.
If I talk too much about the plot, I will ruin it for you. So I will talk about the storyline in general instead. The symbols and the setups are more than symbolic. They are eerily familiar, too real and therefore, extremely scary. But the most amazing thing about the book is the ease with which Atwood establishes how easy it is to slip into this dystopia. How easy it is to believe that this could be the future of our world. History has a sick way of proving that anything is possible. The handmaid’s tale is most certainly a cautionary tale. Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. At times, it feels like the book is holding a mirror to us, as a society at large. The question is, do you like what you see in the mirror? I haven’t read Orwell’s 1984, but now I want to. I am not sure if I like the Handmaid’s tale, probably it is just me feeling scared and uncomfortable. Or, it is my conscience, telling me that I doing something wrong, or my so-called good treatment of fellow women around me inadequate? I hope the time doesn’t tell.