Simona Bartolotta's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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it was ok
bookshelves: in-english, 1900

EDIT 02/06/2016: Lowering the rating to two. I finished it more than a week ago and now I realized I haven't thought of it once. It really left me nothing.

"Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some."

I used to think of my reading taste as predictable. Well, at least a very specific part of my reading taste: namely, there are very few things in the world that I love more than I love dyostopias in the style of 1984 and, above any other, Brave New World (seriously, you need to read that book). This is why I was convinced I was bound to like The Handmaid's Tale; and yet, right before I started it, I was caught by a hunch that my certainties were not certain at all.

I don't know if it's self-conditioning or whatever, but my gut feelings lately are unerring.

•Have you ever heard of Coleridge and the suspension of disbelief?
"...a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."
In the majority of cases, we don't even realize we're granting the author and the story our suspension of disbelief. We just believe, because we are prepared to, because we know that if we don't, then reading is no use, especially if what we are dealing with is a fantasy or sci-fi book. Lo and behold, this book made me struggle to grant it my suspension of disbelief. I still have not decided if it was due to the writing, or the story in itself, or something else yet, but that is what happened, and it totally ruined it for me.

•In my defense, the lack of explanations, or better, the fact that they are given only when we are well into the story, practically towards the end, did not help. Most of the time, I just felt like I was groping around in the dark, and honestly, it was annoying, annoying, annoying. Besides, we are supposed to believe that this full-scale change that swept across the society happened in approximately eight or ten years at most, (we don't know the chronological details) and I found I just couldn't believe it. It's too radical a transformation, and according to the book the mentality it brought about is already well-implanted into the citizens -not everyone, naturally, but generally it is. It's par for the course for a dictatorship to establish itself in a matter of years, but it requires nonetheless the long-standing presence of a certain set of ideas that justifies and forms the basis of the building of an ideology. What we see in The Handmaid's Tale is the cause, the ultimate effect, and none of the passages in between. I need the in-between. I need the whole picture.

•This lack of "background", if you can call it so, made it impossible for me to lose myself int he story. The narrative voice, the protagonist's, is ineffective, bland, not nearly as trenchant as such a strong story requires. She should be able to heighten our disgust for the situation out of sympathy towards her and her circumstances, but to me, and you are allowed to call me heartless, nothing of this happened. I was horrified by what she and the whole female population have to suffer, but it was only an objective aversion due to an objective state of affairs, and not even partly to the empathy I should have felt for the character. I read stories to connect with the people in them; otherwise, I would read nonfiction.

•The plot is uneventful, almost literally. Usually this is not something I consider a priori as a flaw, but in this case it felt like one.

➽ On balance, I did not enjoy it. I acknowledge its value, but it was quite an effort for me to get through it.
Now that I think of it, probably it's kind of a 2.5 instead of a full 3.
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Reading Progress

December 8, 2015 – Shelved
December 8, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 22, 2016 – Shelved as: in-english
May 25, 2016 – Started Reading
May 25, 2016 – Finished Reading
January 10, 2018 – Shelved as: 1900

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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Annamaria Ahahha terribile quando ti regalano un libro e poi tu finisci con l'odiarlo! :'D fortuna che i miei solevano regalarmi Moccia quando ero una piccola stupida! >.<

Emer (A Little Haze) Oh it's definitely an interesting read Simo!!! I didn't love it but I think it's well worth reading and I found it to be a great book to chat about with friends after. Xx

message 3: by Emer (A Little Haze) (last edited May 25, 2016 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Emer (A Little Haze) I can thoroughly understand your disillusionment with this book Simo. I know I preferred it to you as I quite liked the writing and I can straight up say that I have read very few dystopias (that aren't YA) so it probably appealed to me a bit more in that regard. But I do recall really liking the beginning, maybe due to excitement on my part at finally reading this, and then, it all fell utterly flat and bland like you said. And you are so right about the plot, nothing really did happen! Like NOTHING!!! And that can work sometimes if the characters are so alive and full of depth...but Offred...did you care about her in the end??? Because I certainly didn't!! Because as you said the narrative was completely ineffectual. So you are not in the least bit heartless in my opinion...or maybe we are both heartless together!! But I gave it the three stars because I do think it gives pause for thought about freedoms we hold dear. I liked the premise. Yes we got zero background which was very much a cop out, but there was something in the beginning of the book that made me grateful for living in our society these days. And as I said before it's a book that I got to have some great chats about after with my friends and my mum too actually! My mum is always great for debating the merits of books with. So I don't regret reading it. And I hope you're not sorry either :)) Great review Simo <3

Simona Bartolotta Emer (ALittleHaze) wrote: "I can thoroughly understand your disillusionment with this book Simo. I know I preferred it to you as I quite liked the writing and I can straight up say that I have read very few dystopias (that a..."

Thank you Emer <3 I know, the premise is more than valid! But I couldn't bring myself to "enjoy" it, I wasn't even as horrified as I should have been. What was lacking was a connection with the character! I'm afraid it ruined everything :/ I agree that it is perfect for philosophical/social speculation though. Dystopias like the ones I mentioned made me think more, partly because I was more invested in the story probably, but this book here is absolutely unique for the themes it brings up.
Aw, you're so lucky for your mom! Mine doesn't read, but at least she's always wiling to hear me out when I want to rant/rave about some book :) Exchanging opinions with her is a completely different thing though, I'm so jealous! :D

Books are TARDIS Wow, that note on the suspension of disbelief, pure brilliance. I admire how deeply you think the story through. Love the review.

message 6: by Liz (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liz YES! Fantastic review! What you refer to as disbelief in your review I simply coined plausibility but we basically have the same issues with this book! I am glad I am not the only one ;)
You are completely right in terms of the suspension of disbelief, of course :)

Natasha Thank you for this review. I had the same issues with this book.

Natasha Thank you for this review. I had the same issues with this book.

Jennifer E.  Adams I totally agree. You put into words what I was feeling and couldn't put into words yet.

Ilana Well put! My sentiments exactly!

message 11: by Giovani (last edited Apr 08, 2017 11:52AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Giovani I didn't have a problem suspending disbelief, but other than that your review is exactly what I thought about this book.

Quoting your bottom line (I don't even want to put in the effort of using by own words): "On balance, I did not enjoy it. I acknowledge its value, but it was quite an effort for me to get through it."

message 12: by Adi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adi It's not overnight. Things happen slowly, underground, unseen, and then it only seems sudden when they come to fruition.

Datatater Great review. You nailed it. I thought there was something wrong with me for not loving this book. But I just didn’t. It wasn’t awful, nor was it awesome. It just fell flat. Meh. Thanks for saying that for me SO MUCH BETTER than I ever could.

message 14: by Lori (new) - added it

Lori Perfect review. No suspension of disbelief, check; lack of explanation, check; uneventful plot, check!

Karen Downes I am re-reading this (after first reading it sometime in the early '90's).
Don't rely on explanations and plots (especially when suspending disbelief) - rely on what is happening. How possible it is to get there and how it begins. Read it in the context of, in 2018, Roe v Wade is being challenged. Again. Blessed Be.

message 16: by Catka (new) - rated it 1 star

Catka thank you Simona, this is exactly my feeling about the book. I could not buy the story and I could not relate to the main character.
Actually, Margaret wrote it herself: ""She tried to explain it to me afterwards, to tell me that the things in it had really happened, but to me it was only a story. I thought someone had made it up. .... If it's only a story, it becomes less frightening.”

Madeleine I also felt the same way as you described in this review. Though I did eventually care a bit about Offred towards the end, I never formed a deep connection with her and that ruined the story. I also did not feel that I could believe it vehemently but I agree that it has very interesting arguments and depictions in it that are worthy to discuss about. XD

Tiffany Pretty much sums up my feelings as well.

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