The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I very rarely give a book a 5 star rating. The Handmaid’s Tale deserved 5 stars. A book so good and so thought provoking that on occasions I had to put it down so that I could have a think over what I’d just read. When it comes to dystopian novels this book is equal to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. A book so good that I struggled to read anything new for a few days.

This has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, but last weekend on our usual foray into Lancaster we stopped off at the Oxfam second hand book shop where I snagged a copy of this, along with another trashy Richard Laymon splatterpunk special.

For those who don’t know the story, America has become the Republic of Gilead, where women have become little more than breeding stock. Offred, the main character, lives with the commander and his wife, and once a month she is forced to have sex with him so that she can provide them with a child. If she is successful, she will then be sent to live with another childless couple from the higher echelons of this warped society to do the same. If she doesn’t get pregnant then her future will be even bleaker than it currently is.

Offred remembers when things were different, when women were allowed jobs, or to have money, or to decide who they had sex with, who they married or had children with. A terrorist attack, where the President was killed, resulted in martial law, which after only a few years became this nightmare dystopian world as human rights and freedoms were slowly eroded.

It is impossible to review this book without touching upon politics. It was written during the Reagon era, but in light of the recent leak from the Supreme Court in America, where 5 of the judges have openly stated they they intend to revoke Roe vs Wade, and allow individual states to decide if abortions should remain legal. Already the so called heartbeat law is in place in may states, along with plans to try women for murder if they have an abortion. Lets set the record straight. Rich women who want an abortion will still be able to get them. For the rest, these laws will mean that abortions will still occur, but they will no longer be safe. Additionally, many states are looking at no exemption laws, where even if a woman (or child) becomes pregnant through rape or incest, they will still have to give birth. This is what people were worried about when Trump was made President, and were told that they were being alarmist. On top of this we have Trump’s refusal to concede and the riots of 6th January 2021 which tried to prevent the peaceful and lawful transfer of power. Marjorie Taylor Greene even sent a text message to Mark Meadows advocating for martial law, although she spelt it as ‘Marshall’ law.

It has been stated that America has inched towards the first stages of fascism. 15 years ago Naomi Wolf wrote an article detailing the 10 steps to fascism (Read it here). I would suggest that America was only a hare’s breath away from reaching step 10 last January.

A few years ago me and Helen started to watch the TV series, but we stopped half way through as it was depressing and upsetting, which is probably to some degree the point. The book does differ from the TV series, mainly because the book is only long enough for one series, and I just had a look and series 5 will be shown later this year. However, from what I watched and read, the book and TV are very similar. However, there is the recently written sequel, The Testaments, which I have already ordered.

What was also interesting was reading some of the reviews for this book. Mostly 4 or 5 stars, but with the odd 1 star as well. Some people really didn’t like the style of the book, and how quotation marks are missing. If I tried to write in the style of this book it would be terrible, but Margaret Atwood is such an accomplished author she can carry off this very unconventional style of writing. One reviewer said that she didn’t ‘buy it’, as in the future in the book was too extreme and would never happen. Let’s hope so, but that misses the point of dystopian books, they are meant to show an extreme version of our future society. Much like many politicians in the Conservative party looked at 1984 as a ‘how to’ manual. Another reviewer said ‘so much for Atwood’s dire predictions’. Again, disliking the book because 25 years after it was written, the future described hasn’t happened misses the point by a country mile.

Anyway I could go on. The book is amazing, and America, you have to fight like you’ve never fought before because your future could be just as bad as the Republic of Gilead.