Firstly, I can’t believe I’ve managed to get to the age of thirty without reading this book. I’ve always had a sort of grumpy avoidance of things other people really recommend; it isn’t snobbishness, it’s more the feeling that when something is built up that much, it can’t possibly live up to it. It’s that awkward moment where your friend is showing you their favourite film and you’re just not feeling it. So I have been aware of The Handmaid’s Tale forever, been told to read it hundreds of times, but just not done so. What a mistake.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. I read Vox a few months ago, and I also read The Power last year, both of which draw heavily on the ideas in The Handmaid’s Tale. (Incidentally, I read all three of these books for the same reason- the Newcastle Girl book club.) This female-focused, dystopian, morally heavy style of story really does it for me.
The thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it isn’t overly difficult to imagine a world in which the horrifying reality presented is true; we already know, don’t we, that there are people who live in liberal, western countries who oppose women’s rights to do what they want with their bodies? There are people who oppose feminism. There are people who use religion to push their own beliefs onto the masses. That’s the real power of this book- it’s not a completely alien world that is presented, but one which could fairly easily be reality.
The story itself is very loose; the narrative style is erratic and conversational, flicking back and forward in time, and it works so well. Our protagonist, who we know only by her enforced name of Offred, is a Handmaid, a fertile woman in a world where that is rare. She is forced into a life of horrifying servitude in which she must attempt to conceive the child of a powerful man, a child who will be raised by the man’s wife.
I was absolutely gripped by this book. I can’t imagine many people are reading this who haven’t read this yet, but if you are one of them, you absolutely have to read it. I was furious, heartbroken and horrified by it, and it absolutely deserves the praise it receives.