First published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is an oldie but a goodie. For the first five chapters, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to like it. However, slowly but surely, I fell in love with this one-of-a-kind dystopian tale in which young women with “viable ovaries” have become the servants of certain elite couples. The sole purpose of these “handmaids” is to procreate with their “commanders.”
Atwood’s writing is often poetic, which makes perfect sense because she is a writer of poetry. While I enjoy poetry, some of the more lengthy descriptive parts made me feel like I had to think a bit too hard to understand exactly what was going on. For example:
“But if you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you’ve made it this far, please remember: you will never be subject to the temptation or feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman. It’s difficult to resist, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold it is a power, perhaps the greatest.”
Hmm. Okay. These words are put together beautifully, but I found myself rereading parts like this because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Something that was intended to provide me with a deeper understanding of what was going on.
I like the way flashbacks are scattered throughout the story. They provide insight into what the MC’s life was like before she became a handmaid. We get to see snippets of the loved ones she no longer has access to, people who she may or may not ever see again. People who may even be dead. Overall, I felt that these flashbacks were well-placed, but a few times it wasn’t immediately clear whether Atwood was describing past or present events.
Due to the incomprehensible new society that has risen from a war-torn United States (which was difficult for me to swallow at first) and an abundance of descriptive language, I must admit that it took me about two weeks to get past page 25 because I kept falling asleep. However, if you decide to read this book and find yourself bored like I was with the beginning, do yourself a favor and stick with it, because it is amazing. It will upset, disgust and confuse you, and it might even break your heart. But above all, it will make you think.
I went from thinking I would rate this book no more than 3 stars to feeling that I could confidently give it a 4 1/2-star rating by the time I started the last chapter. But then the ending (or what I THOUGHT was the ending) made me angry! So I was prepared to bump my rating down to 4 because I was sick to my stomach with the open ending. Then I read the REAL ending (which I almost skipped)…the Historical Notes. That’s when everything really clicked for me. Be sure to read the Historical Notes!
“All historians know, the past is a great darkness, and filled with echoes. Voices may reach us from it; but what they say to us is imbued with the obscurity of the matrix out of which they come; and, try as we may, we cannot always decipher them precisely in the clearer light of our own day.”