Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The bleak depiction of a religious future comes from master storyteller Margaret Atwood. Offred is a sex slave held captive by a religious cult leader and her wife who are part of a higher, religious class of society that controls the government. Offred used to live a normal life and never suspected that this would happen. She had a husband and a kid that were taken from her when she tried to cross the border into Canada. The Republic of Gilead rose up in America over time and used relentless tactics to wear down Offred and other women's resistance to their new situation. 

Readers see Gilead through Offred's eyes as she goes on walks to the market with Ofglen. Their names come from their masters that own them. They are used only for their fertility as global warming and other diseases prevent women from having children. The man who has intercourse with Offred is known as the Commander. He is old but allows Offred to visit him some nights to play scramble and received gifts, like an outlawed beauty magazine, which Offred treasures as a reminder of the past. The Commander's wife Serena Joy was a religious leader who is upset by the need to have a handmaiden. It is most likely the Commander's fault that they cannot have children but society only blames women for infertility.

There is a sparse amount of food at the supermarket and as they leave they travel by a wall where dissidents are hanged as examples. Other men are put in front of the women and accused of rape as the handmaids are allowed to tear him apart. Various forms of punishment are doled out harshly to any who disobey. Still, Ofglen whispers to Offred about a secret uprising. Spies known as Eyes listen for any sign of resistance and are often seen on the street taking down individuals suspected of having irreligious tendencies. 

At the behest of Serena Joy, Offred strikes up a sexual relationship with Nick, a handyman around the Commander's house. They were first allowed to have sex to get Offred pregnant but she returns for comfort and pleasure without Serena's knowledge. Offred feels guilty about continuing to enjoy Nick's company when she thinks of her husband and the religious fervor of the society, knowing they could be caught at any moment. 

I have greatly enjoyed Margaret Atwood's fiction from the Blind Assassin to the MadAddam trilogy, one of my favorite series of books ever starting with the brilliant Oryx and Crake. The Handmaid's Tale lacks a little in plot but this doesn't seem to be the case for the new show on Hulu. The show expands on the story that starts in the book using that as a template for the initial episodes but looks to build off of the world telling other stories. I appreciate what was accomplished in the fiction and it is chilling how close some of this stuff seems to what could happen. 

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