You'll love this one...!! A book club & more discussion

Group Themed Reads: Discussions > The Handmaid's Tale - what did you think?

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message 1: by Jenny, Group Creator - Honorary Moderator (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments Like last month, once you have read the book can you give me a mini review here.

What I want from you guys is:

A star rating out of 5 (exactly the same as Goodreads).


A brief description of what you thought about the book. Good story? Interesting? Insightful? Would you read some more of the author's work? Did you learn anything from reading it. etc.

At the end of the month I will post our average rating as a group and try to sum up what we all thought.

message 2: by Cecily (last edited Feb 06, 2009 07:22AM) (new)

Cecily | 576 comments 5 *****

S P O I L E R S follow

When I read this several years ago I gave it 4*, but I've upgraded it, perhaps in part because reading it for a group gives one added focus.

A wonderful hybrid: a book that is eminently readable, but packed with fascinating and thought-provoking ideas and symbolism.

It's set in the near future in a dystopian totalitarian state where pollution has rendered many infertile, so there has been a backlash against permissiveness and women are subjugated to the point where they are not even allowed to read (even shop signs are just icons).

Offred tells the story of how she became a handmaid, assigned to one of the elite, purely for breeding purposes.

All the many and varied restrictions, practicise, divisions and penalties imposed by the regime have really been applied somewhere in the world, albeit not all at the same time and place. One of the things that stops the book being gloomy is the resilience of the human spirit: there is a resistance movement among the lower classes and even amongst the elite, illicit things go on. The fear of being caught creates a good sense of tension.

Faith and ritual are important, both to the regime as a means of control and to individuals as a way of making life bearable.

The symbolism is rich, especially tulips and the colour red. The handmaids' sole purpose is procreation, their cycles are closely monitored, everything they wear is red and other important red items (such as a path) are pointed out. Whilst the shape of tulip flowers clearly echoes genitalia, they are also likened to a wound and teeth, and they and other flowers are described in different ways to indicated fertility or sterility. Serena Joy's knitting is a compulsive form of reproduction with sinister echoes of Dickens' Madame Defarge.

The big questions are around ownership of oneself and one's body. The state is patriarchal, but an army of matriarchal "aunts" enforce rituals and build a hive mentality to support each other and hence the regime. Are the handmaids prostitutes (is Nick too)? They sell their bodies (though not for cash), but the aim is procreation, not anyone's pleasure (the wife is always present), and it is for the survival of them as individuals and of the human race.

Do the ends justify the means, and should the handmaids accept some responsibility for going along with it? I suspect you could read this several times and never come up with exactly the same answer.

message 3: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Five stars for me too, again, I have read it and enjoyed it before.

I don't think I can top C F S R's very comprehensive review above. Its a very intriguing and interesting read. I have read one or two other Margaret Atwood novels, but none of them have been as thought-provoking and gripping as this one. I would thoroughly recommend it. One of my favourite books I think (although its quite a long list...)

message 4: by Cecily (new)

Cecily | 576 comments Oryx and Crake is very good too, and is also set in a dystopian future. Nevertheless, like Heidi, Handmaid is my favourite Atwood (of 5 or 6 that I've read).

message 5: by Jo (new)

Jo (Jo_Wales) | 62 comments This is the first Margaret Atwood book I have read and although it took me a while to get into her style I am enjoying it even though it is a bit disturbing!

message 6: by Kipahni (new)

Kipahni | 144 comments I give it 5 stars as well

The unusual story telling set in a distopic world made this book both interesting and thought provoking. With various themes like sex vs intamacy, responsibility "for the greater good", power struggles between genders ...ect I could see how this would make a good group read.

message 7: by Sharon75uk (new)

Sharon75uk | 125 comments Finished the book tonight and really enjoyed it.

message 8: by Jenny, Group Creator - Honorary Moderator (new)

Jenny (notestothemoon) | 846 comments I'm giving it 3 stars :S

Found the first 100 pages a little bit pointless. Wonderful story, I loved Offred's narrative. Disliked the ending. Lost it a star for me. I didn't want Offred's part of the story to end, I wanted to know more and more. Excellent group read, lots to discuss.

message 9: by Molly (new)

Molly | 270 comments I gave this 5 stars - and I am very stingy with my stars. I have never read any of Atwood's work before - but it sounds like I picked a great one to start with! I loved the writing - wordplay with double meanings - symbolism. The method of telling the story was what gave it the most impact - relatable, horrifying, couldn't stop reading wanting to know how the hell the U.S. got so out of control. I thought the ending was very clever.

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