la_mariane (la_mariane) wrote in bookish,

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I just finished The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood this morning. I read because people at [info]bookish  and [info]50bookchallenge  told me to give Atwood another chance, when I told everyone how underwhelmed The Penelopiad left me.

And they were right, The Handmaid's Tale (La Servante écarlate in French : I read a translation) is a very good book. Depressing, but still very good.

This book is a dystopia : in the late 20th century, a Christian minority kills all the US government and they impose a new totalitarian regime. The Handmaid's Tale is Offred's story, which she tells after she escapes thanks to an underground network. She is a Servant : understand, she can still have children in a world where there are next to no births, so she was made to live with an official of the new regime and his wife, just so that she can bear them a child. Everything is made so that Offred doesn't feel like a human being : she no longer has a name (Offred = Of Fred, Fred being the man's name), she can't have friends, they took her daughter away, she has those long red dresses and those white bonnets that hide her body and hair. She also hasn't any liberties any longer : she can't work, she can't have money, she can only have sex once a month with the Commander and his wife.

We learn about Offred life under the new political power and also about her old life, because, except a few easy chores, she has nothing to do and spends her time reminiscing. So the narrative is not really linear : everything Offred tells us about her new life in in chronological order, but there are her memories (those are not in chronological order) in between : we learn about the family she lost (Luke, her husband, and their daughter), about the Red Center where women are indoctrinated, about her friend Moira, who tried to revolt and escape.

I also really liked the ending : we are given to read a history conference where we learn that the text was actually on audio tapes and that it was found on a place where women were passing through before they left the country. It gave me a bit of distance with the story. I found it a very clever fictional ploy to give perspective to the reader.

There was only one thing that annoyed me : in the whole book, we are told nearly exclusively about women. I was so curious about this whole new and nightmarish society. What religion were they from (we know they're Christians, but they're still at war with Baptists and Catholics.)? How are the children educated? What is the economy like? I like the story but I would have liked a broader view of this dystopia.

So sum up : read this book, it's really worth it. I found it an excellent dystopia, even if the resolute feminist view was a little too much for me. While I agree that how a society treats women is very important, I would have liked to learn about all the other aspects of this society.
Tags: genre: fiction, review, xxx author last name: a-h

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