The world is no longer how it was. A new government has taken over the country, women no longer have rights, and in a society where fertility is at an all time low, any fertile women are relegated to "handmaids", given to the elite as regulated sex slaves in an attempt to raise the population. Offred, as she is called now, is one of those handmaids. As she introduces us to this new society, she flickers between her life now and the life she can still remember before the take over. Assigned to the commander and his once famous wife, Serena Joy, Offred recedes inside her own mind, dedicating herself to her duties and occupying her time with memories of the people she knew before, her best friend, her husband, and her daughter.
What I Liked
- All of it? I'm not kidding. I was hooked after the first page. This book drew me in and swallowed me whole. I'm having difficulty choosing just a few things to discuss. Atwood excels at stringing along the juicy details so that the pages keep turning. Sometimes this can make everything seem vague and confusing, but by balancing these details with Offred's steady stream of inner monologue, Atwood keeps the story from becoming obscure.
- World Building: The world building is both intricate and subtle. We aren't given all of the details of this society right off the bat, but the sequence in which we discover them is believable and makes sense. Unlike many dystopian novels that seem a little too science fiction to be totally believable, this one seems very real and possible, with just enough balance of historical truth and speculation, which is possibly what makes it so terrifying.
- Offred: Offred seems very real to me as a character, which, once again, is one of the reasons why this novel is just so believable. I feel like many people, put into the position that she is in, would think and act the same way. Also, even though in this context, Offred is most definitely a victim, I like how she doesn't come across victimized. She has accepted this new world and has receded into herself. On one hand, she is a silenced victim, but on the other she has maintained her sense of self more so than many of the other characters we meet in one of the few ways she can. Her relationship with her own victim-hood is fascinating as well, at times it seems like she has given up, but we still get these flashes of fire from her and that's what makes her so damn interesting and likable. She's neither a passive victim nor a fiery rebel, but somehow both and neither.
What I Didn't Like
- Oh, the torture: While I stand by my earlier comment that Atwood keeps the mystery alive without making things too obscure, I will admit this is a torturous read. The whole time I was reading I was begging for more and lamenting the fact that I couldn't read faster. I am glad that I didn't spoil the ending for myself though, which often is the case when I want to know what happens faster than I can read it to find out. (Wikipedia has ruined many books, movies, and shows for me...though I'll admit it's almost always my fault)
- The Critics: After reading the first week's excerpt and sitting down to write about it, I'll admit I got stuck. I was in love with this book, and I couldn't think of anything I didn't like. While discussing this with my husband, I finally admitted that what I didn't like were the critics, to which he responded "write about it". So here I am. When I looked up this book on Goodreads.com (where I get all my reviews from for this blog) I noticed that a lot of people were giving it low scores simply because it didn't give them enough information right off the bat so they stopped reading all together, and then complained that it didn't make any sense how this new dystopian government got in place...which is talked about...in the book...and actually makes perfect sense...IF they had actually finished reading it. I want to clarify that I understand not everyone is going to like this book, there are definitely things in it that someone could fairly say turned them off, It just frustrated me that most of the reasons people gave for not liking were either due to not paying enough attention or **finishing the book**, or weren't really signs of anything wrong with the book or the writing, and mostly just reflected the reader's personal preferences. I would have liked to see more objective reviews.
Quote of the Week
"I would like to believe this is a story I'm telling. I need to believe it...if it's a story i'm telling, then i have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. i can pick up where i left off...but if it's a story, even in my head, i must be telling it to someone. you don't tell a story only to yourself. there's always someone else. even when there is no one," (44).
- Why do you think that Atwood decided to tell the story non-linearly? What affect does this have? Do you love it or hate it?
- How does Offred differ from the usual "victim" in literature? What decisions does she make for herself? What about the other women in the novel? How are they victims, or victimizers?
- The Gilead society has very strict societal roles. How do those roles compare to different societal roles in different cultures today?
- This novel delves into some really psychological themes with its sense of paranoia and elements of brain washing, even with the description of how the handmaid's act while being trained in groups and how they are reshaped from their identities before. Where do you see aspects of this?