Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

I finally got around to reading this! My Goodreads review is spoiler-free, but under the cut, I’ll briefly talk about the two things I mention in my review that are definitely spoilers.

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to give this five stars, I really did! I almost gave it three, but I have to remember that for it being a product of its time, I can forgive some of the flaws that I disliked about it. I’m so thankful, though, that I read this first before bingeing the Hulu series.

Style and prose are superb. It’s human and flawed like the narrator, so you never quite lose touch of an inside-out look at the events and regime in place, but it is relatable and only just enough imagery to get you through from one scene to the next, fleeting, like Offred’s existence (and safety). The sparseness carries through the whole book and before you know it you have the entire compound mapped out. Only a few things are highlighted and scrutinized. A profound moment for me, as a writer, was when I understood the difference between when quotation marks were used in speech versus when they weren’t, why Offred would narrate that way. That was a lesson I will carry with me and compare to my own devices in the fiction I write.

The story itself is compelling and timeless. Women/femmefolk of all kinds will understand why. Each female character we meet is one of us or one of our friends in some way, and I especially had a soft spot for Moira–I identified with her a lot, far beyond her outspoken gayness, and part of me hopes that maybe my friends see me the way Offred views her.

There were two things I outright did not like in the story. I won’t spoil either of them, but I will say that one was a subtle plot twist that, I think, was heavily edited. Despite it being watered down, it seems an offhand sudden turn of events, handled quite flippantly, and when paired with the conclusion of Offred’s tale seems out of place. Perhaps if we had a titch more justification for that change, and a way to better work it in. It isn’t so much the twist itself but rather the way it was handled. For those who have read other dystopian novels, you will understand the parallel I’m talking about.

The other aspect I didn’t like was the very end, for obvious reasons if the reader has paid close enough attention to the theme. That, I think, was by design and I get the point of it being written that way. So, with those considerations, I added a star back to my review, because if those are the only two significant marks, that’s still pretty good.

I know this book is considered dystopian, but I disagree. Maybe, perhaps, pre-dystopian, especially when considering the conclusion and all of those implications. With the efficient social structure, character placements (and developments) and the fact that Gilead is in fact, thriving, despite its birth rate, I think what might horrify male readers, most other women identify as their daily lives.

Reminder: Spoilers!

1. The Plot Twist: After the Women’s Salvaging, Offred goes all “I Love Big Brother” and is blase about trying to escape, or even defy. That in and of itself isn’t so much a problem, except I would have expected her to feel some kind of remorse or hope for Luke and her daughter, at least some kind of ambivalence. But she seemed apathetic and without any real motivation, which kills a character on the spot, narratively. There wasn’t enough detail to know if she was being drugged, or further brainwashed, or anything. Former Ofglen just gave up on her and that was that.

The fact that Nick then saved her with a Mayday operation, when she knew the Eyes were coming for her after Serena Joy discovered the lipstick on the cloak, and she spent the afternoon considering the most extreme rebellion of either arson and/or suicide, immediately after she repented due to former Ofglen’s martyrdom (if it was true)…maybe it’s trauma making her go in circles but it directly contradicts her sudden change of heart and obedience prior to the Salvaging. Why? Really, just because of Nick?

That’s why, though, I believe that it was heavily edited. Too many things don’t add up.

2. I know the entire ending being mansplained in a monologue was deliberate, I get it, but it still frustrated me. Not knowing what happened to Offred is fine, honestly, and I didn’t mind the presentation of it being a historical study at all…but it was just a reminder that women are always in Gilead.

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