*Disclaimer: This book contains sexual themes, and has violent scenes. Suicide also occurs and is referenced occasionally throughout the book. Please take this into consideration when deciding if this is a book you would like to read.*
The Handmaid’s Tale follows a character who has been re-named Offred by her society. It follows her adapting to her new role in a dangerous world with new social norms. Offred is a handmaid, a servant assigned to a household, her duty is to provide the commander and his wife with a child. She has other responsibilities like grocery shopping, but her primary role is childbearing.
Atwood introduces Offred into a situation surrounded by despair, suicidal themes echo throughout the shell of Offred’s life right from the very first scene. This is a compelling way of setting the tone for the whole book. There are elements of light and dark, life and death sprinkled throughout the novel. I think it’s a powerful way of exploring the emotions of someone in this situation.
Our main protagonist is hard to describe. She appears at first emotionally detached and numb to the world around her. As her story progresses and Offred discovers more information she begins to thaw. She tries to survive while holding onto dangerous memories of her past to keep sane. Our protagonist frequently battles with her morals while trying to navigate a world where survival means breaking rules for the right people. Although Offred does start the story as a reactive character, we see her growth in proactive decision making as the story develops. Most of the story our protagonist is hiding secrets that could get her killed and trying not to kill herself.
I don’t know if I would say that this book is about Offred despite seeing the story unfold from her point of view. I feel like this particular story is much bigger than our protagonist. This story, however, is less about her and more about the world in which she exists. The Handmaid’s Tale is about the people and circumstances that got Offred to where she is now.
Atwood uses a mix of present-day storytelling and memories to unravel the secrets of why and how this world fell into disarray. I found the pacing of the book a bit hard to get used to. I tend to read more fast-paced books, and this story is much slower in revealing itself. I enjoyed this about the writing style, I think the daily routine and the drudgery of normal life was excellently contrasted with the newer ceremonies and events and fears that this particular dystopian has to offer. At times I really enjoyed the easy pace, I think small injections of more information would’ve suited this story well. It would allow the reader to piece together more of the puzzle as our protagonist does and create a more active reading situation. The only thing I wish this book had was a little bit more of the how the world got to into its state. I would’ve loved more history as I enjoy finding out the different ways in which our world might decline.
Offred has an almost split personality. Atwood might be suggesting an unravelling of nerves through a prolonged fear and paranoia, the careful and survivalist nature we are introduced to at the beginning of the book, the unravelling of this particular character seems likely as she is continuously bouncing between wanting to live and contemplating suicide. Offred becomes unhinged, and we get to watch as she become less and less subtle in her rebellions. Some aspects of it are spot on like the romantic nature of her character and her need for physical touch are very natural. The language and random outbursts of rage don’t seem to suit Offred, but they do tie into her previous lifestyle.
Attwood uses a combination of poetic and shocking language. This style of shock factor mostly worked, although it occasionally felt like as though Atwood was trying to keep me invested by shaking things up. I found it distracting from the story, however people with more of tolerance towards swearing in their daily life wouldn’t be bothered by this as much as I am.
The mystery of the book was never unwound to a satisfactory level. I found myself longing to find out more about how the world tumbled into chaos, Offred, however, didn’t know much information so it is correct that we shouldn’t either. While some readers may enjoy the fill in the blanks of reality; for me, it didn’t seem well enough explored. I think that allowing the reader in on more secrets would’ve improved the impact of the story.
Atwood writes very well, and I think The Handmaid’s Tale is worth a read for anyone that is interested in reading one of the darker pieces of classic literature. It is excellent in regards to the style in which it divulges information. It is a unique and interesting way of telling a story in that it flickers between past and present. This woman is a genius when it comes to word association games, I really enjoyed the way she explores the language of a woman with too much time on her hands. I will continue to explore the works of Atwood, as this is my first experiences with one of her books. I’m excited to see what themes her other works explore.
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