The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood was first published in 1985 and won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Fiction the same year. I read it for the Book Awards Challenge II and the Lit Flicks Challenge.

Ofglen is currently serving as a handmaid (think biblically) in the Commander’s household in the state of Gilead. The reader comes to understand that the United States has been taken over by a group of religious fundamentalists who have banned everything from lingerie to second marriages and who have installed a state where woman have few rights. Women are not allowed to read or write. They are told how to dress and when to go out. Those with viable ovaries are put into service as handmaids because the fertility rates are so low. These handmaids are renamed, are forced to wear all red with white blinders and veils, and serve only as wombs for the households they are assigned to. Ofglen used to have a husband and a child, but her family was torn apart by the new regime. Now she must make the best of this new world.

I can’t even do the plot summary justice. This book amazed me. Astounded me. Enthralled me. It’s so philosophical and layered and yet compelling and accessible. It’s written beautifully, instantly elevating Margaret Atwood to “possible favorite author” status. This book is about so much. It’s about treasuring the lives we live and the little pleasures of each day. It’s about not realizing that we’re happy until it’s taken away. It’s about taking things for granted and guilt. And, it’s about the human spirit, our adaptability:

“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.”

The writing is amazing. I can’t describe it better than that. I can’t accurately capture it for you. It will have to speak for itself. One of my favorite passages is from the first night that Offred plays Scrabble with the Commander. Only a true lover of words could write this:

We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance. Quince. Zygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury. The counters are like candies, made of peppermint, cool like that. Humbugs, those were called. I would like to put them into my mouth. They would taste also of lime. The letter C. Crisp, slightly acid on the tongue, delicious.

In sum, this is a rare gem of a book. A classic, both modern and timeless. It reads as if it were written yesterday – it’s that relevant. It reminded me to be grateful for the life I have and to be ever vigilant in protecting it. Reading this book changed the way I look at the world. I can’t really say any more than that. Just read it.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood [rating:5]

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