Michael's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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May 29, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1980s, goodest-reads-2010, fiction-that-speculates
Read from May 29 to June 02, 2010

Let me start with this: I love dystopias. Some people are fascinated by zombies, some love post-apocalyptic novels, some like undead porn. I've always loved dark visions of how the world could end up. In fact, one of my college essays was an elaborate discussion of how older dystopias (We, 1984, and Brave New World) got it wrong (and right).

This was the scariest dystopia I've ever read.

Part of the reason might be that I'm older now than I was when reading these other books. Maybe it's that I'm more politically aware, and see more connections between the zealotry in this book and events of recent years. Maybe...well, maybe this is just really scary shit. All Atwood had to do was mention the possibility of nuclear power plants leaking because of unexpected earthquakes and I was thinking, "Why not?" All she had to do was mention women being treated as second class citizens to get me thinking, "Been there, still doing that." And with a convenient re-reading of The Bible underlying all these horrible social changes, I could imagine the majority of people buying whatever the priests are selling.

So, yes: scary, scary, scary, scary shit.

Offred is a surrogate womb for the wife of a wealthy man. If she manages to concieve with him, during this time period when healthy babies are rare (most of the babies are called unbabies or Shredders, although I don't think it's explained what exactly a shredder is), Offred will avoid being declared an Unwoman and being sent to a concentration camp. Of course, the guy who she's required to fuck is an old man who is probably impotent since the previous handmaids have given him no children.

The Handmaid's Tale tells Offred's story: the various humiliations she undergoes, her suffering, her small triumphs of freedom and fighting the system. One thing I love about this book is Offred, a strong character who struggles with the system in believable ways. That is, her thoughts simulateously rebel against the society's restrictions and in some ways give in to them. Many of her rebellions are only inside of her head. The society is so restrictive that even these internal rebellions seem like triumphs.

I almost cried twice. I didn't, of course, because I am man, and man don't cry. With this book, I had to put it down a couple times and give myself a minute because it was so overwhelming.

As with most books I give five stars, I find that my review is sucking dog cock. Why is it so hard to write a good review of a really good book? Is it because nothing you write is really going to do it justice? Is it because it's almost impossible to be sarcastic and witty when saying nice things? Whatever the reason, I want to make you read this book. GO! READ IT! THIS THE REAL SHIT!
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Reading Progress

05/29 page 60
19.29% "This blows Orwell out of the water. Never thought I'd say that, but damn."
01/09 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! I love this. Great response and this - As with most books I give five stars, I find that my review is sucking dog cock. - is completely untrue. Maybe a horse's.


I almost cried twice. I didn't, of course, because I am man, and man don't cry.

*offers tissue and hug*


message 2: by Aerin (new) - added it

Aerin You should check out Oryx and Crake, Atwood's second take on the end of the world as we know it. In some ways, I find it even more powerful, chilling, and timely than Handmaid's Tale.


Moira Russell It is indeed a scary book. It was also pretty freaky sitting in a movie theatre watching all the stuff happen onscreen right in front of you, like women in cattle cars marked '♀'. Gahhh. (Also I was sitting right next to my mother.)

I've always loved the 'Night' parts best. I think they get overlooked. They're so wonderful. (Also, okay, the Moira character is great.)


Michael Thanks, Eh! Duly noted. It probably was a horse cock.

"You should check out Oryx and Crake, Atwood's second take on the end of the world as we know it."

That one looks veeery interesting, so I'll try to find that one next. I definitely find the concept even more interesting than The Handmaid's Tale.


"pretty freaky sitting in a movie theatre watching all the stuff happen.."

Gah! There's a movie?


Moira Russell Michael wrote: "Gah! There's a movie? "

Yeah, altho it's not that great, and they changed a lot. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay. Elizabeth McGovern makes a pretty good Moira. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099731/

Also, 'Margaret Atwood sings in ice hockey film musical'


message 6: by Annalisa (last edited Jun 08, 2010 05:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa I too find it hard to write reviews for good books. They come out sounding so lame and unworthy. It's good to hear a guy say this was a scary dystopia and that he "almost" cried. It doesn't count if you get emotional, only if you get all blubberly like a girl, right? Good. In that case, I never cry either.


Michael Yeah, grrr, no tears here! Just a very sad sounding mutterance of "Hmmmmm....quite sad," as I stroke my chin in contemplation. Nothing effeminate there. *clears throat* So, how are those football teams doing and whatnot?

Thanks for letting me know about the movie, Moira. I'm curious to see how they did it, although it's definitely one of those books a film can't match. Maybe I'll get lucky and it'll be downloadable on Netflix.


Madeline Let me give some unsolicited advice and say, don't see the movie. Moira is being more than generous when she says that it's "not that great." The Handmaid's Tale is, I believe, impossible to film well. Simply put, you can't make a good movie out of the story because if there's a movie, Offred is given a face and an identity, which ruins it - does that make sense? It does to me, anyway.


Michael "...if there's a movie, Offred is given a face and an identity, which ruins it - does that make sense?"

Yeah, I see what you mean. The voice of the novel makes it impossible to objectify Offred while reading, and movies, by nature, objectify the actors and actresses in them. In movies, you're always outside of the characters' heads. (Other than in Being John Malcovich, but whatever.) I won't say it's impossible, but I think it's highly improbable a good movie could be made of it.

Hmmm, that's two nays then, and so far no yays. And Netflix is telling me I'd only give it two stars. Alright, I'm not going to bother until someone else can explain how the movie is actually MORE TRUE to the book than the book is.


message 10: by Madeline (last edited Jun 08, 2010 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Madeline It also doesn't help that they cast Natasha Richardson as Offred. If you're going to insist on assigning Offred a face, at least give the role to an unknown actress so it's a face we (or just I) don't automatically associate with 101 Dalmatians.


message 11: by Annalisa (last edited Jun 08, 2010 08:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa I've never seen the movie, but I've heard it isn't good. Maybe Madeline's comment on someone else's review? I took it off my Netflix list too.

Michael, you should know it's too early for football. Baseball? Nah, I don't like baseball.


Moira Russell Michael wrote: "Thanks for letting me know about the movie, Moira. I'm curious to see how they did it, although it's definitely one of those books a film can't match. Maybe I'll get lucky and it'll be downloadable on Netflix. "

Well, there was at least one BIG plot change I was not that happy with, and it was v Hollywood-ish. I didn't see the Dalmations movie, but yeah, you totally lose the storytelling aspects (my favourite parts of the Night bits) and of course the deliberate confusion about her identity with the other 'Maids is impossible to maintain in a film. Some visualizations do have a v visceral quality, like when they round up the women. But it's mostly rather chilly and slow, full of dumb little changes like, they called her Kate all throughout the movie. Why change it? And why not try to keep her at least somewhat nameless? But no, KATE KATE KATE.


Michael "...it's too early for football. Baseball?"

Is it still too early for football now? It's 11:38 A.M. out here in Arizona. (Should I take out or leave in the cringeworthy joke? Hmmm. It stays.)

Actually, I think true football people get almost as excited about the draft and the practice games as they do the actual season. Of course, I basically just know that I want the Colts to win, no matter what, and they're usually the guys in blue.

"...at least give the role to an unknown actress so it's a face we (or just I) don't automatically associate with 101 Dalmatians."

Do you mean that totally unnecessary live-action 101 Dalmatians? I'm sure I've seen it at some point, but I don't remember anything from the experience, so the actress probably wouldn't bother me. Unless she can't act.

They changed her name to KATE? What the fuck?

How did we end up discussing The Handmaid's Tale and American football at the same time? Oh, yeah, I remember, and it was all my fault. It's kind of funny though.


message 14: by Annalisa (last edited Jun 09, 2010 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Annalisa I smiled so it wasn't too cringe worthy. I guess I'm not such a die-hard fan. Personally, I only like college football. Maybe we can start talking about Natasha Richardson in the draft. I can see the movie now. You can put the wings on her head and have everyone cheering for Ollred and throw in some alien zombie polar bears on the defense. I'll let you keep the rights to that movie script. No, seriously. It's all you.


message 15: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen It is now on my "to-read" list. Your objective is satisfied.

(Go Colts!)


Michael Hmm, that sounds like a short movie, Annalisa. Short and bloody. It might make a terrific music video for a band like Rammstein or Crotchduster, though...most of the video would probably be the bears eating her, and then laying down on their stomachs cutely. The five minute film would have to capture the complexity of the polar bear's nature. And the complexity of Natasha's insides as they're dragged outside.

What? You were expecting Natasha to make it past ZOMBIE ALIEN POLAR BEARS?

"It is now on my "to-read" list. Your objective is satisfied."


Thanks, Jen, I'm sure you'll love it!


Moira Russell Michael wrote: "They changed her name to KATE? What the fuck? "

KATE, I dunno. Maybe Harold Pinter liked it better than 'June.' All the other names were the same, tho.


Madeline Oh god, I forgot all about how they gave her a name. No, no, no and no.

And since I was still an easily-impressed child when 101 Dalmatians came out, I remember it fondly. I mean, come on: Hugh Laurie, Glenn Close, PUPPIES...what's not to love?

(Having just consulted IMDb, I see that it was actually Joely Richardson who was in the movie. Okay, my bad. But she does look a lot like Natasha.)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115433/


Moira Russell Madeline wrote: "Oh god, I forgot all about how they gave her a name. No, no, no and no.

Yeah, and she HAD a name. JUNE! No less than Mary McCarthy pointed that out. You can figure it out from the text! JUNE! WTF. (I wrote Atwood a letter because my mother's name is June, too, and mine Moira; she seemed amused.)

And since I was still an easily-impressed child when 101 Dalmatians came out, I remember it fondly"

Heh uh I remember the cartoon. //cough creak tap cane


Michael "KATE, I dunno."

Yeah, changing that name was a BAD idea.

"And since I was still an easily-impressed child when 101 Dalmatians came out, I remember it fondly. I mean, come on: Hugh Laurie, Glenn Close, PUPPIES...what's not to love?"

Well, I'll give that to you: Hugh Laurie, Glenn Close and puppies are all good things. But I was fifteen when that one came out, so I was way too sophisticated to watch a Disney movie...or thought I was, at least. By then, I had seen a few rated R movies, so I felt too adult to watch a Disney movie of any kind, ESPECIALLY one about puppies.


message 21: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary This is the scariest....read this before you vote for President this year,and have a President with a known facist as an advisor.....


Cecily I reiterate the suggestions to read Oryx and Crake, and also The Year of the Flood, which tells a closely related story to O&C. I reread the former just before reading the latter, and I don't think it matters which order you read them, though it does help to read them in quick succession.

(And Atwood and you were right about "the possibility of nuclear power plants leaking because of unexpected earthquakes", as Japan is now all-too aware.)


Cecily Ah, I now see that you have read Oryx and Crake. So now go read The Year of the Flood. ;-)


Brittany B. I really adore this review. I've yet to read this, being new to dystopian fiction. But I have bought this book based on your charming review! :)


Michael Good choice! It's a really good one, for serious!


message 26: by Larry (new) - added it

Larry Bassett I have this book hidden on my bookshelf. I better put it in a more visible place so it doesn't sit there much longer.


Brittany B. This is indeed scary! I'm reading now, and have already had moments when I felt I could be sick.


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