The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Published: 1st April 1998 (print)/2nd June 2011 (audio) Goodreads badge
Anchor Books/Random House
Pages: 314/10 hours 23 minutes
Narrator: Joanna David
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

I’m glad I finally read this and it’s clear this is a classic for a reason and stands the test of time because the issues it touches on are ongoing and remain as important as they did in the 80s. I was drawn in by this story and I’m glad it lives up to its reputation, I was equally fascinated and mortified by so much throughout this book I have no doubt that was Atwood’s intention.

It is a powerful move to make Offred remember her life before. It would have been easier to have this society be this way for so long no one really remembers the before times, but having it in living memory of someone relatively young is a beautifully horrifying choice and makes this so much more powerful. This is always seen as a dystopian story but the events fall so close to being possible it’s unsettling. It’s not quite in the dystopian world of nuclear fallout or environmental collapse, it is a construction of society and men and at times relatively close to reality it’s not too far to imagine it actually happening.

Atwood doesn’t need to infodump on us about what happen in full chronological details. She weaves information and history through Offred’s flashback’s and natural story. It never felt like we were being explained things, but at the same time what we don’t get told is also part of the fun. You can see it unfolding and the clues coming together, while still remaining in the dark about so much. I loved the inclusion of the Japanese tourists. It reminded me of a post I had seen on Tumblr about what the rest of the world is doing while the United States is having its dystopian dramas in all these books and movies. It’s little details like this that help shape the world Offred is living and the society that has been formed.

The audiobook was an amazing experience, especially given the ending and Moss did such a great job in telling this story. She was very good at putting contempt and distain into her voice, she was also skilled at incorporating a natural voice for Offred: fluid, casual offhanded remarks if they had just come to her, uncertainty and worry. I felt like I was listening to this woman’s story.

Atwood lets you create your own conclusions, better or worse about what happened. There is hope but there is also a sense of acceptance and leaving it to the reader is a powerful move. I actually loved not having answers. I won’t spoil what is and what isn’t told, but it was a great way to stay within the narrator’s world, and not to provide easy answers for the readers. It played into the emotional mindset of Offred, and to have it make sense as the story she was telling, not an outside view for us to know everything. Her story no doubt is for those who already know a lot, this is her own experience, retelling her story through what has happened, the reader picks up snippets here and there but the broader tale is known and meant to be understood by the fictional players which is a brilliant move.

You can purchase The Handmaid’s Tale via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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