The Handmaid’s Tale is big in my circle right now, with some reading the book and some watching the Hulu series.
The common consensus: alarming, relevant, shocking.
With the popularity of dystopian tales in recent cinema, it’s surprising The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t popped up before now. It’s the perfect blend of religious fanaticism and government gone bad to control man-made environmental and population crisis. Think Divergent meets 1984 meets The Third Reich and you’ve got The Handmaid’s Tale.
A long beach weekend allowed me to dig into Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian world. With every page, my bathing suit and bare legs became increasingly apparent as I sunk further and further into the bleak Republic of Gilead and thick red habits.
In Offred, Atwood creates a character so devastatingly traumatized by what has happened to her, that she seems almost flippant in her mannerisms and attitude. To deal with the complete shock and sensory deprivation of being a handmaid, whose sole responsibility is to procreate for The Wives (rich infertile women), Offred halting and delicately brings forth controlled memories of her previous life and loved ones, always careful to keep herself from stepping too far into herself.
Her understanding of the situation in Gilead, the toxicity of the land, the population decline caused by an epidemic of infertility, the suspension of the Constitution, the religious upheaval, The Sons of Jacob, The Eyes, The Aunts…all are brought forth piece meal, placed randomly within memories, leaving the reader to sort and piece the history of Gilead together as Offred quickly buries and escapes the pain and disappointment of a past reality for the pain and disappointment of the present reality.
Offred’s utter helplessness and the very last shreds of self holding onto sanity tunneled a giant hole right through my chest and I often found it hard to breathe while reading.
Like any book of this popularity, the Amazon reviews are off the charts. Many of the one and two star reviews claim Atwood’s novel is too slow, too boring, too un-relatable. The five star reviews tend to treat this book like a cautionary tale, similar to “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. For me, this book served as a mirror, a perfect piece for self reflection. Since reading, I’ve found myself mulling over what it means to be a woman, the roles and responsibilities, the parts and pieces, the relationships, the rights, the rules, and the regulations we hold one another to.
This book left me emotionally drained, clinging to my husband’s body for stability in the night. Reader beware, there is no happy ending to this tale.