Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A lot has been said about this much lauded book. Its resurrection from the 1980’s with the well-known mini- series has found a greater appreciation and a fresh audience and is relevant in its message today as it was then.

I read it many years ago in my twenties and having read it again for the second time found a new appreciation. This dystopian novel puts us in an oppressed world where women whose rights and freedoms are stripped away are forced into specific roles – Handmaids are to breed; Martha’s are domestic workers etc. Offred is one of those Handmaids who gives us snippets of her life before the takeover by the Gilead regime and what led her to her present predictament.

The writing style, as with all Margaret Atwood novels is exquisite.
“We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semi-darkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across the space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed.”

We know from the turn of page one that all is not right in a regime most of us could barely imagine. Yet some of the ideas about the treatment of women are not a forecast but I’d suggest a probable reality somewhere in the world. Who could forget the kidnapping of two hundred girls in Nigeria by the Boko Haram and what life those survivors endure? Oppression and religious zealotry is still rife in many parts of the world. Margaret Atwood does a great job of showing us how this feels through the voice of Offred. Yet, it’s telling is also reminiscent of our past and how far we have to go for women everywhere to have true choice.

The Handmaid’s Tale is profound and disturbing yet thought provoking. If you haven’t read it, it’s time you did.


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