Sps's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Feb 05, 2009

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bookshelves: science-fiction, story
Read from April 01 to 06, 2011

Who are our Taliban? Who hates women and sexuality and liberty, who believes in a divine right to enforce hierarchy and ignorance?

Jenny says Atwood wrote this after a trip to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the 1980s, and I can definitely see it. For me, science fiction is way, way scarier than horror or thrillers could be. Because the horror is daily life rather than some unusual happening outside of daily life. Walking up 6th Avenue in the wind and the sun this morning I thought about Atwood's frequent descriptions of the clothes given to the Handmaids, the way they felt constantly on the skin, the other things Offred remembered feeling on her skin. There's a relation to mass culture & everyday objects that is neither a Pop embrace nor a Fine Art shunning like DFW talks about in "E Unibus Pluram" in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Atwood's reference to Mademoiselle magazine does "make us uneasy," but for different reasons than in, say, DeLillo.

This is my second Atwood, and two for two were told as first-person retrospectives of women's lives with greater or lesser traumas. Even as her characters dissociate themselves from active, feminist resistance, Atwood always introduces it around the narrator. It is an option. Of course, collusion is also an option. Which is part of what's compelling and distinguished/distinguishing about Atwood's writing: we are there with her characters for these sorts of choices, and they are always fraught, they are never beyond reproach.
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Jenny I lied. She visited Afghanistan on the brink of the civil war in 1978 so this was pre-Taliban. Too bad. It worked really well in your review.

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