This is a wonderful book. I was initially drawn to it because it deals with life after the end of the world, which is a subject I find fascinating, but I feel like this book is actually so much more than that.
The novel takes the form of the diary entries of our main character Jon, who takes it upon himself to record the events that happen after the world ends. He is staying in a hotel in Switzerland for a work conference when the nuclear bombs fall, ending civilisation as it currently exists.
After the bombs fall, Jon must adjust to life in this post-apocalyptic setting. He stays at the hotel with a host of other interesting characters and, as they try to carve out their way to survival, they make a grizzly discovery: the body of a young girl in a water tank in the hotel.
Jon becomes obsessed with solving this crime, and the novel does an amazing job of showing his descent mentally as his obsession devours him. Jameson constantly toys with the reader, using the unreliable narrative to twist reality.
As time goes on, tensions rise in the hotel as people turn on one another. The other characters in this book were great; I loved their different personalities and the exploration of how different types of people might cope with this sort of experience. As their society begins to inevitably crumble, characters start to break down, and their slice of civilisation is further tested when it becomes apparent that they might not be the only survivors. Isolated and vulnerable in a lonely hotel, the characters plight is genuinely unsettling.
I adored this novel. I felt Jameson did a great job of writing a twisty, unpredictable narrative that went beyond the constraints of genre. It’s not a light read, but it certainly an addictive one that stays with you.
Reasons to read:
- A unique take on what life might be like at the end of the world
- Well written characters
- Good range of diversity in the characters
- Unpredictable and unsettling
Possible trigger warnings:
- Drug use
- Mental health topics
- Death and violence
- Domestic abuse
- Discussion of rape
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.