Published: March 16, 1998
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Source: Personal Copy (Book Club)
You might enjoy this book if you like: Dystopian fiction, books dealing with Women's Studies, cautionary tales
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...
The term "modern classic" is thrown around, in my opinion, too easily these days. However, this book is one that most certainly deserves that title. This book has been around for a while--it was probably the first truly notable example of what we know call "Dystopian" fiction, but it hasn't aged a day. If anything, it is more applicable now than ever before.
The structure of this story is interesting as we don't really know the circumstances around its telling until the end. What is also interesting is that while a good chunk of the story is told through flashbacks, the flashbacks are to the present day. This creates an almost creepy atmosphere that lets the reader know that this piece of speculative fiction may be more possible than we want to admit.
And that is what makes this such a powerful work. Much of the language Atwood uses to describe how the Republic of Gilead regards women is what you would hear in some parts of the world today. And the goal of Gilead, to restore society to the way it was meant to be, sounds uncomfortably familiar to things like "Make America Great Again" (oh yes, I did just go there!). That is why this book is still (and will probably always be) so important.
Atwood paces this story expertly. The reader knows right off the severity of life in Gilead, but we gradually see how it truly wrecks those who are not in the upper eschelon of this society. The bulk of the story takes place over about two months and the reader feels both the monotony and the urgency of the time.
Finally, be sure to read the "Historical Notes" at the end of the book. I almost skipped over it, thinking it was just an afterward. It is actually part of the story and it will shed some much needed light on the Republic of Gilead.
All in all, this was a book that affected me deeply and will stick with me for some time to come. I highly recommend this to everyone and anyone.
I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.