Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Kindle Edition)

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Books
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Offred lives in Gilead, what used to be the United States, after some kind of war and multiple political upheavals.  Before the theocratically based revolution, she was a single woman, who had a feminist mother, a wisecracking friend named Moira, and a married lover named Luke.  Offred assumes that her mother is dead, and she knows Luke has been taken away.  Luke and Offred were trying to escape as the revolution was in its nascent stages, Offred made it, Luke, she assumes is either dead or missing.  Offred is now a Handmaid, a surrogate mother of sorts, to the numbers of infertile women, because of the variety of nuclear waste, chemical and biological weapons strewn throughout the countryside.  One day, her friend Moira tries to escape and is never seen again.  Despite her shock at losing Moira, Offred desperately wants to escape this repressive society.  The opportunity presents itself when the Commander who uses her to provide children to his baron wife Serena joy, comes over to have an affair the old fashioned way.  Does Offred use the Commander’s largesse to break out of this futuristic paternalistic prison?  Does she find Moira, her mother, or Luke?

I wanted to like this book, I really did, I like dystopian literature, what’s not to like?  Good dystopian literature is a mix of politics and good storytelling.  And this book adds another incendiary element, religion, specifically, evangelical Christianity and the subjugation of women under the paternalistic tendencies of the Old Testament.  And all one has to do is look at the current crop of Republican candidate and their penchant  to restrict contraception to women, and one can see how prescient books like this can be. The intertwining of political power and religious power is a dangerous thing, the Commander functions more as a high priest than a military leader.  That said, the trend between intermingling religion and politics has been going on for at least 30 years, so it’s not impossible to imagine a paternalistic totalitarian society with a basis in the most odious tenets of religion.

The weaknesses of the book are many.  Let’s start with the female protagonist Offred.  The reader never gets to know her real name and that keeps her at a distance, why do that?  There seems to be no structure to this story, it sets some goals for Offred to strive for, but she never even tries.  It’s hard to root for a character when she won’t risk her life to get what she wants.  Offred has very little drive and so this becomes a lazy book with lazy characters, some characters come in others fade, and a minor character becomes a major character towards the end.  I hate when authors do that.  There is very little character development, the characters are about an inch deep with no dimension to their thoughts or actions.  Therev is very little backstory, so we don’t really know what happens, there’s a hierarchical structure in this society but very little detail.  There are guards, eyes and the Commander if you’re a male, if you’re a female there are wives,  aunts,  and handmaids, but little is said about any segment of the social strata.  And the most egregious sin committed by  the author of this book is she tries to fill in the ending and backstory in the epilogue of the book.  Sorry, that’s a big no-no for me. A Handmaid’s Tale could have been so much better.

The Handmaid’s Tale:  Not Made Well.

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