The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I started this book in the last week of January, and I finished it, a month later, in February. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was a particularly tough book to read; so, instead, I decided to listen to the audio book version of it. Listening to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautiful experience, and perhaps, arguably, the best way to experience the book.

The title of the book is, as it so obvious, a reference to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and in keeping with that tradition, most of the book is told to us by Offred, the lead, save for the last chapter which is a bit different, and something very unexpected and gives us a whole new perspective of the book that we had just read – more on that later.

The ‘tale’ is narrated to us by Offred who is a Handmaid, which means that she is a fertile woman who is given off to the Governors so that she can carry their babies. All of this takes place in the republic of Gilead, which is a military dictatorship which replaced the United States of America. The thing is that in Gilead, most of the women have become infertile, therefore these Handmaids are important.

Now, this book, which is about 30 years old, is now so, painfully and obscenely relevant. I loved this book, but it was a really tough book to read, and listening to it made it more powerful, in my opinion. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book if I were reading it; some of the imagery was so vulgar, and visceral, and a bit disconcerting. The prose was beautiful, I loved how every sentence flowed to easily into the next; it was beautiful and sad, when coupled with the bleak and possible future.

She used some really weird similes, which fit in with the narrative – “voice like raw egg white.” That appeared in the latter portion of the book, and it is, perhaps, my favourite of the weird similes.

The part that was tough even for me to listen to was the description of the “fucking” scene. It was so vulgar, and dirty. *shudder*

Now, perhaps my favourite part of the book was the so-called epilogue, which took form a paper presentation at a symposium after the end of the Gilead regime. I really liked the meta-fictional symposium that talks about the tale we just heard, and how it might actually be fictional because some bits of it couldn’t have happened. Since it was so far in the past for them, they can’t possibly verify some of these details because they are so specific.

There’s a lot in this book, and I could honestly sit down with this book for a while and close read the shite out of it; I mean, there’s so much to unpack, so much between the lines. A really good analysis could be done on the colour coding, and how it is used in the oppression of these women; the various forms of oppression, and the various spaces in which the revolt can, does, and could take place. This book is a gold mine.

And now, I hear that Atwood has released the Q&A section of it in a special edition of the book and now I must go on the look out for it!

This book was brilliant, and I loved every moment of it. I’m really excited to see the new adaptation of it on Hulu, I just hope they maintain the integrity of the tale and not mess it up, because the book isn’t that big, and the show, as far as I’m aware, isn’t a miniseries. And I wonder how they’ll pull of the symposium..hmm..


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