Sean Barrs the Bookdragon's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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it was amazing
bookshelves: sci-fi, 5-star-reads, contemporary-lit, feminism

I’ve been moved by books in the past, many times, but I’ve never before read a book that has emotionally drained me to such a degree. This is frightening and powerful. And sometimes it only takes a single paragraph to make you realise how much so:

“Yes, Ma’am, I said again, forgetting. They used to have dolls, for little girls, that would talk if you pulled a string at the back; I thought I was sounding like that, voice of a monotone, voice of a doll. She probably longed to slap my face. They can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent. But not with any implement. Only with their hands.”

Needless to say, this is an absolutely awful situation. From the very beginning, I knew how much I was going to like this book. Its story isn’t one that it is simply read: it demands to be heard. It beckoned me to see the full force of the situation. The Handmaids, the average woman, have no free will or individualism; they are treated as simple baby producing machines. An oppressive regime is forced upon them, and to deviate from the said standard results in a slow and agonising death. There’s no hope or joy for them, only perpetual subjugation.

Indeed, this is where Atwood’s awe inspiringly persuasive powers reside. By portraying such a bleak situation, she is able to fully demonstrate what life could be like if we suddenly followed the misogynistic views of the old testament with fierce intensity. Women would have no power whatsoever. This would be reinforced by a complete cultural destruction and lack of any form of self-expression. They would not be able to read or write; they would not be able to speak their minds. It would even go as far as to condition them so powerfully, that they completely lack the ability of independent thought. And, to make it even worse, the women know no difference. Sure, the narrator of this remembers her past, but she’s not allowed to. She is forced to repress any sense of individual sentiment.

“But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”

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The narrator has a horrendous ordeal, in an equally as horrendous world. The notion was devised as a response against a drastic decrease in birth-rates. Men in power have taken complete control of women in both body and mind to insure an increase in the declining birth-rates. As I mentioned, their individualism is repressed, but the men also prevent any physical freedom. The women are owned by the state, by the men and by corruption; their bodies are nothing more than a means to provide new life. In this, they are degraded to a state of sub-human existence; they are no longer people. Atwood suggests that they are merely a reproductive organ, one that can be discarded without thought, mercy or conscience. This is reinforced on every level; the language delivers this on a revealing scale. The names are suggestive of the oppression; the protagonist is called “Offred.” She is of-Fred: she belongs to him. The women are assigned names that are not their own; they are dubbed with the disgusting title of “Handmaiden.” By doing so they are left with very little of their former lives. The women are simply objects to be used, controlled and destroyed and the slightest hint of nonconformity to such an absurd system. But, here’s the rub. The best, and most haunting, thing about this novel is its scary plausibility.

The culture created is evocative of one that could actually exist. The way the men attempt to justify its existence is nothing short of terrifying. They make it sound perfectly normal. Well, not normal, but an idea that could be justified to a people. Not that it is justifiable, but the argument they present has just enough eerie resemblance to a cold, logical, response to make it seem probable in its misguided vileness. The totalitarian elements provide an image of a people that will do endure anything if they’re provided with a glimpse of liberty. The small degree of liberty the Handmaids think they have doesn’t actually exist: it’s an illusion, a trick, a shadow on the wall. They’re manipulated into believing it and become frenzied in the face of it. It is the ultimate means of control in its nastiness.

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

This book was horrifying and strangely perceptive. If you’re thinking about reading this, stop thinking, just read it. It’s brilliant. It’s a book I will definitely be reading again because it is just so thought provoking and disturbing.

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Reading Progress

January 19, 2016 – Started Reading
January 19, 2016 – Shelved
January 19, 2016 – Shelved as: sci-fi
January 19, 2016 – Finished Reading
February 13, 2016 – Shelved as: 5-star-reads
March 8, 2016 – Shelved as: contemporary-lit
March 17, 2018 – Shelved as: feminism

Comments Showing 1-50 of 69 (69 new)


✌ Adam Mendez ✌ Good Luck!!!!


Holly Probably my favourite book of all time!


Sebastien cool I love Margaret Atwood, look forward to seeing what you think of her work


Chloe (thelastcolour) I read this for English Literature in Year 12 and it was absolutely incredible!


message 5: by L.M. (new)

L.M. Tuwah It's been on my shelf for sooo long, as well. Must get to reading it soon.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Adam wrote: "Good Luck!!!! "

Thanks! ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Chloe (thelastcolour) wrote: "I read this for English Literature in Year 12 and it was absolutely incredible!"

Super jelous. I've got a module next year at university on modern classics, this may pop up then for me. At least I'd have read it in advance! :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Sebastien wrote: "cool I love Margaret Atwood, look forward to seeing what you think of her work"

It shall be interesting, I've lots of good things and also lots of bad. Hopefully I will belong to the former camp! ;)


Fabian {Councillor} Good luck! It's on my TBR as well. I can't wait to see what you think of it :)


Jenny (Reading Envy) Good luck! I have always preferred Atwood's dystopian fiction to her other stuff but I think I like Oryx and Crake even more than this one. Still, this is a classic that must be read! I have an audio version read by Claire Danes; I'm hoping to get back to it this year sometime.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Councillor wrote: "Good luck! It's on my TBR as well. I can't wait to see what you think of it :)"

Thanks, I can't wait to finish it and get my review sorted! ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Good luck! I have always preferred Atwood's dystopian fiction to her other stuff but I think I like Oryx and Crake even more than this one. Still, this is a classic that must be read! I have an aud..."

Thanks, I've got a random selction of her books to try. I've got this, The Blind Assassin and Moral Disorder. So, I'm hoping that I enjoy them all. :)


message 13: by S.C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

S.C. Flynn agree!


Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin What a wonderful review Sean!


message 15: by Choko (new)

Choko A great review!!!


Wanda Excellent review. I feel the same way about this book.


message 17: by Mike (new)

Mike Great review, Sean. This has been strongly recommended to read to me by several people. I have a copy lying around somewhere that I'll tackle one of thsese fine days.


Markus Great review, Sean. I need to read this, but I wonder if I can take another dystopia for a while.


Sally Great review, thanks for sharing!

I first read this novel for an undergrad sociology class and have read it many times since then. I am always terrified by the story, it is so close to what could come to be (and, one could argue, nearly the reality for women in settings).

Atwood is brilliant and this is one of her best works!


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Melissa wrote: "What a wonderful review Sean!"

Thanks ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Choko wrote: "A great review!!!"

Thanks- I had fun writing it! ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Wanda wrote: "Excellent review. I feel the same way about this book."

Cheers- glad to hear it :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Mike wrote: "Great review, Sean. This has been strongly recommended to read to me by several people. I have a copy lying around somewhere that I'll tackle one of thsese fine days."

Thanks- I hope you like it too!

It was sat on my shelf for two years before I finally read it.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Markus wrote: "Great review, Sean. I need to read this, but I wonder if I can take another dystopia for a while."

Thanks, I know the feeling. I was drained after this one! :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Sally wrote: "Great review, thanks for sharing!

I first read this novel for an undergrad sociology class and have read it many times since then. I am always terrified by the story, it is so close to what could..."


It is frightening; it's in the way that she makes it seem justifiable in the minds of the oppressor that scared me the most: the possibility that people could actually think that way.

I will be reading more of her books in the future. I've got the Blind Assassin and Moral Disorder on my shelf atm.


SUSAN   *Nevertheless,she persisted* Wonderful review,bravo!!!!!,


message 27: by Hayat (new) - added it

Hayat Brilliant review, Sean! Your review was intriguing and informative without giving anything away.I need to read this asap!


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon SUSAN wrote: "Wonderful review,bravo!!!!!,"

Thanks ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Hayat wrote: "Brilliant review, Sean! Your review was intriguing and informative without giving anything away.I need to read this asap!"

Thanks- I tried to be a bit cryptic in parts :)


Chelle Brilliant review. This is one of my favourites. I first came across it in my first year of college and I've reread it twice since. Think I'm due another reread :)


message 31: by Mark (new)

Mark great review


message 32: by Brit (new) - added it

Brit Cheung great review that is so penetrating too. Thought-provoking, disturbing and oppressive as you said. Love the review. Maybe it's time for another “Katniss Everdeen” in that world to “raise her bow”!…


Keeley Margaret Atwood is one of the great poets and novelists of our time. If you like poetry, you should check out her collections, or maybe just first peek at her 'Variations on the Word Sleep'. As far as novels go, after the Handmaid's Tale, I probably love The Edible Woman as the next best.


Irene I had almost forgotten, so chilling, "...only with their hands."


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Chelle wrote: "Brilliant review. This is one of my favourites. I first came across it in my first year of college and I've reread it twice since. Think I'm due another reread :)"

Thanks :)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Mark wrote: "great review"

Cheers ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Brit wrote: "great review that is so penetrating too. Thought-provoking, disturbing and oppressive as you said. Love the review. Maybe it's time for another “Katniss Everdeen” in that world to “raise her bow”!…"

Glad you liked it! ;)


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Keeley wrote: "Margaret Atwood is one of the great poets and novelists of our time. If you like poetry, you should check out her collections, or maybe just first peek at her 'Variations on the Word Sleep'. As far..."

I shall be definetly checking out some of her poetry!


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Irene wrote: "I had almost forgotten, so chilling, "...only with their hands.""

Very symbolic :)


Margaret A fine review of a great book. Thanks, Sean.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Margaret wrote: "A fine review of a great book. Thanks, Sean."

no worries. it's a great book!


message 42: by Kristine (new) - added it

Kristine Dicerchio Your review is superb.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Kristine wrote: "Your review is superb."

thanks :)


Michelle Leger Fantastic review! I couldn't agree more. You have articulated my exact thoughts on this beautiful novel. As a Canadian, this book has been on my to-read for years. I'm embarrassed to say I just only got around to reading it.
Cheers!


Ying Ying +1 to the voices that acclaim your review! It is truly fantastic.


Marie-Paule Wonderful review, Sean


Sharon Brown That was a great review Sean! This is one of my favorite books of all times! I was totally captivated by the artful and brilliant way Ms. Atwood writes.


message 48: by Book (new) - rated it 5 stars

Book Wormy Love the book and loving the adaptation. I also like the justification of a change from "freedom to" to "freedom from"


Cecily Excellent review of a scarily prescient novel. Like you, I think the TV adaptation is very good, and the changes it makes are mostly very suitable for the change of medium.

"The culture created is evocative of one that could actually exist."

And have/do. Atwood has often said that everything portrayed has precedent in the real world, just not all in the same place and time. Yet.


Sean Barrs the Bookdragon Cecily wrote: "Excellent review of a scarily prescient novel. Like you, I think the TV adaptation is very good, and the changes it makes are mostly very suitable for the change of medium.

"The culture created is..."


Thank you, and it's the plausibility that makes the writing so effective. The cold response of the government to the crisis seemed realistic.


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