The Handmaid’s Tale is a very odd book that left me deep in thought; with it’s eerie writing & unnerving world-building it’s sure to leave you feeling uncomfortable. I both enjoyed & hated this read, but I’m really hoping for a sequel.
This review contains some spoilers for the end of the book!
This book contains references to the hardships of Jewish individuals during World War 2 as well as human suffering & uncomfortable sex scenes.
The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly a book that makes you think; my edition of the book opened with a short essay written by Margaret Atwood about the popularity of the book, why it’s relevant now & the answers to some of the questions she gets asked regularly… and this opening left me very deep in thought & knowing that I could read a whole book about the themes & topics of The Handmaid’s Tale, if it were written by Margaret Atwood herself.
As for the rest of the book, well, it was a very strange read. The world-building for this book was odd, because in some ways things were exactly the same as the current western world, i.e. technology, housing, etc., whilst in other ways it was very, very different. One thing that this book definitely is, is clever – & it’s also so obvious that Atwood really thought about what she was writing. The main character is incredibly well developed & her thought-processes & emotions had clearly been thought about in great detail – whenever the protag’ was thinking about anything, she was thinking about it thoroughly & her mind would go off in several directions, allowing me as a reader to really consider the plot from all perspectives.
Other aspects of the book that show that Atwood has thought deeply about her story, were the sex scenes between the handmaid, the wife & the husband. Now, I don’t know what these scenes are like in the show, but I have to say they made for very unpleasant reading! I couldn’t help but think about how I would feel as either woman during this process & it actually left me feeling a little sick. You can also tell that this book wasn’t written by a straight male, because I think we all know how those scenes would have gone if it had been… I also found the birthing scene quite a difficult read & I thought about how this part of the story must have been very strange to film, if the TV show matches the book’s description.
Something else that makes this book very poignant was the fact that America seems to be heading in a direction similar to that of the world in A Handmaid’s Tale – a lot of people were saying on Twitter, when the TV show aired, that it was eerie how much people felt that the events in this story could be just around the corner for us, & I totally understand those thoughts now. Something that would have been interesting though, would have been finding out about the rest of the world & whether countries such as England followed suit. It’s scary though, that a book like this doesn’t feel like it’s a million miles away from our current or future reality – scary & incredibly sad.
Despite my unending praise for the thought & deliberation that has gone into creating The Handmaid’s Tale, I do have some issues with it. My main one being the comments that were peppered throughout the book about the way Jewish people were treated during World War 2… on more than one occasion a seemingly thoughtless comment appeared where it really wasn’t necessary to the story & it left a bad taste in my mouth. I understand that Atwood was trying to compare the suffering of Jewish people during World War 2 to some of the people in her version of our world, but I just don’t think it really added anything to the story, & I definitely think that it could have left some Jewish readers feeling a little uncomfortable. I did tweet to see if I had any Jewish followers who had read the book, as I wanted to discuss some of the passages of text that bothered me but no one responded – if you’re Jewish & have read the book, & you’re happy to talk to me about it, please send me a message!
Another thing I was disappointed about was the ending… not only did it feel very sudden, but it also spoilt one of the things I was appreciating about the read! A lot of books that are alternative-future stories are often set in times when a new way of living has been fully integrated into the population; the characters in the books then end up finding a way to take down the government & blah blah blah… and for so much of the read, this book wasn’t like that! Instead it was about a time when things had only recently changed, when there were generations alive to remember what it was like before things changed & the story was just about a victim of the system & their everyday experiences; and it was great! But then of course, our protagonist escapes her prisoner-like existence with the help of her boyfriend *rolls eyes* and okay, maybe I would have enjoyed this, if it had been fast paced & as well thought out as the rest of the book… but, no. Instead the book just finished & there isn’t a damn sequel! What is this anarchy?! Seriously, I had only just got used to the weirdness of the story & then. it. finished.
It’s safe to say I wasn’t best pleased. You could even say I was a little pissed off. So I Googled whether there’s going to be a sequel, & there are, apparently, rumours that Atwood is writing one – in which case, yipee! I would also love to read Moira’s story, our protagonist’s best friend & a novella about the experience of one of the wives could be quite cool too. Basically, the thing that really let this book down is that there isn’t more of it. It is a good read though, & one I would recommend to anyone who thinks they can handle reading it – it is incredibly emotional & left me feeling deflated on more than one occasion, so be warned.