Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

This is a highly infectious and worthy read!

A dsytopian tale would not be my usual choice of novel. However, I had heard only passionate recommendations for Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I spotted it in the local library and picked it up. I took it home, read the blurb and left it on the side, feeling it just wasn't for me. Meanwhile I continued battling with a book that was after a couple of chapters, highly predictable and boring. My usual approach to reading is don't worry about finishing a book; time is precious and there are too many excellent books waiting to be read. However, as this was frowned upon by so many around me, I had decided to make a more concerted effort to finish what I started. A third the way through a book, I couldn't stand it any more and abandoned this ridiculous new approach to reading.

Thank goodness! Just three lines. Three, short, Atwood style, succinct lines was all it took to affirm it was a very wise decision. Why waste time on words shoved on a page retelling the same old droll, repetitively, when you can have a carefully, crafted piece of art? Where you can read phrases such as:

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

"There is more than one kind of freedom...Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it."

Atwood's foresight to what may lay ahead for future generations are akin to Orwell's 1984. At times I gasped. A cashless society made the transition of control so easy and indeed, today we find ourselves almost there; bank cards, credit cards, school canteens run on a pin number or fingerprint and now the possibility of paying with a smartphone. The same page mentioned an attack on America and fear of Islamic fundamentalism. Sadly, I feel no further comment or justification is required there.

The novel centres on a possible future based on the contemporary concerns of crime, war, radiation, moral decline of man...or should I say women, and interpretations of religious, in particular, biblical passages. Published in 1985 it shamefully and scarily seems even more appropriate today.

Atwood deftly weaves all these themes for the future with a touch of the past to produce a compulsive read. Anyone who understands how Hitler rose to power having never received an even near majority vote will recognise this in the novel and how easily it could happen again.

It has certainly left me considering how easy it would be for me to lose all power, however independent and educated I feel. Now I begin to understand how present difficult economic circumstances seem to have such a grip on my life. The trouble is, I'm not sure there is anything we can do to stop it. So it remains to be answered, in whom do we trust?


  1. I love Margaret Atwood; I enjoyed the Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye and The Edible Woman are also favourites.

  2. I love Attwood also - discovered her quite recently and was fascinated by The Blind Assassin

  3. Thanks both. I shall add those titles to my reading list.