Nathan's Reviews > The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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really liked it

The Handmaid's Tale portrays a terrifying but very real and possible dystopia. At first, it's difficult to tell what exactly is going on in the handmaid's world, although her spare narration is filled with a deep sense of fear and danger. It's challenging but exciting to try to make sense of all the frightening details that she describes, and that's one of the things that made this such a compelling read for me--I was desperate to figure out what was happening as well as how and why things had gone so wrong. The story progresses beautifully, as the details of the present unravel at the same time and with the same urgency as the events of the past, tracing a frighteningly believable path from our world to hers.

One thing that I really liked about the development of the story: as the circumstances of the handmaid's life and surroundings become clearer and more oppressive, she actually seems to gain some small measure of hope. There's a constantly escalating contrast between the powers threatening her and the growing strength of her voice.

For me, I guess the most beautiful and thrilling theme of this novel was its focus on the fragility and importance of our small little moments of happiness. So many times the main character reflects on images from her past and thinks, "And we didn't even know we were happy then." Atwood has done a masterful job of portraying how quickly and uncontrollably the things by which we define our daily selves can be destroyed and rewritten, and how our fear and desire to keep on living makes us silent in the face of power.

I love books that stay with me during the time when I'm away from them, and this is definitely one those books. Over the past few days, I've frequently found myself sitting on the metro, looking out the window and thinking about different passages and themes from the novel, marveling at how the story seems both far away and very familiar.

I'd be interested to chat with anyone else about their take on the book. I'd like to know if other people think it's just terrifying all the way through or whether it ever reaches a point at which it's somewhat hopeful. Looking back on it, I can't really tell. At times, the terror in this novel seems so great that even the smallest glimpses of hope seem bigger than life.

4.5/5
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
July 9, 2007 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Michael (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:31AM) (new)

Michael nice review. I just traded for a Margaret Atwood at the local used book shop - wanted to give her another chance. I read Robber Bridegroom in PC and didn't like it too much.... but it's down on the list, so stay tuned..


Gillian I completely agree. It was gripping and slowly perfect all at the same time. I too was reminded of this book in the strangest ways. It definitely stuck with me even after I put it down... and the ending is so...AH! but at the same time I found a deep appreciation for margaret atwood to have the guts to end it that way. It really just made it that much more memorable.


Jacob Andra I liked it, and found it very scary, as I see elements in today's America that seem to paralllel the ideology of Gilead.


JoJoTheModern Terrifying all the way through, definitely. *shudder* It inspired me to take my own freedom far more seriously.


Victoria I just finished reading this book yesterday and I totally agree with every word of your review.


Debra I read this book when it was originally published and decided that it was time to read it again. It scares me as much now as it did then.


Jackie I just finished this book and I had many of the feelings you had. It is terrifying because it seems to some degree plausible, but I do agree that there is also a sense of hope. There were people willing to risk their lives for change. There was also the resilience of the human spirit. No matter how dire the circumstances, she tried to retain her humanity, her dignity, in the choices she made, in what she remembered, in the love she continued to carry for her family. And yes, in all the small pleasures. It's comforting to know that even in desperate times one can find some shred of hope and encouragement to keep living, to hope for a better day.


Keisha Great review, I especially think this paragraph sums up the book really well:

"For me, I guess the most beautiful and thrilling theme of this novel was its focus on the fragility and importance of our small little moments of happiness. So many times the main character reflects on images from her past and thinks, "And we didn't even know we were happy then." Atwood has done a masterful job of portraying how quickly and uncontrollably the things by which we define our daily selves can be destroyed and rewritten, and how our fear and desire to keep on living makes us silent in the face of power."


message 9: by Bel (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bel Murphy Great review, Nathan.


Alisha Purcell Great review. Summed it perfectly. I was trying to explain by fascination of this story to a friend and they looked at me like I was a nut. Lol


Finding Fifth Most of the way through this book I could not shake off this uncomfortable feeling. I did not even think I would bother to finish reading it. But I am glad that I did. For someone who reads mostly non fiction I too have found myself pondering this alternate future. Your review is insightful.


Colleen Miller loved the intriguing maze Atwood put you in. The anxiety that grew as I tried to figure out what the hell had happened and what the hell is waiting ahead! I viewed the handmaid's transition not as hope, but defiance as she felt everything was slipping away. The more she acknowledged the absurdity around her, the more she was willing to sacrifice herself.


April I really enjoyed your review, even though I did not like the book very much at all. I thought it had some excellent parts-like when you quoted the part of her finally realizing she was happy before all of the craziness happens.
I just could not get past the point of how it was more of a diary than anything else. There were interactions (or "active" scene's) with the character's in b/w-but not alot.
I was frustrated b/c we weren't given a reason for why she was there, what she truly believed, or even what happened with her family. Plus the ending was so unsatisfying! The idea was wonderful & unique for its time but the execution was not so good. I hate it b/c I was SO hopeful for this book!
But I'm glad you liked it!


message 14: by Janeth (new)

Janeth I do agree with your review, at first reading the first few chapters was difficult for me to understand the handmaid and what exactly is going in the distopia. Throughout the book things start building up and you really start seeing the terrifying things that occur. uncomfortable to read at times but still intriguing enough to continue.


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