Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)

Having finished this a couple of days ago, I felt I needed the time to reflect upon it and gather my true opinion.

I still have mixed feelings, but I'll delve deeper into that after we see ..

.. what the book has to say about itself.. 

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.

What I have to say.. 

In the very dense summary of this novel, you get a taste of what this book is about, but it is so much more. 
Offred, (of Fred) is an inhouse woman who's main function is to get pregnant. The reason this is so important, is due to a war where certain chemicals which causes infertility amongst others, were used. 

It seems a simple explanation, but it isn't so. 
The world is under the reign of a theocracy and the bible rules life, yet again. 
Due to the low childbirth rate and the high number of stillborns and misshapen babies, child bearing has become big business. Free access to sex has  been taken away and men are rewarded with a wife and later on a handmaid, when they've done their country a good deed. 

These men themselves are mostly infertile but it's a taboo to speak of it, since men have become rulers of the house and the world again, pulling the wife back to kitchen duties and spreading her legs in the bedroom. Marriages devoid of love, they seek comfort in the extreme. 

One of their duties would be to conceive a child, whether with their own wife or with a handmaid, a woman assigned to a household. Every step of the way is calculated, so passion can't find a way in. 

Offred finds herself in a household where she is envied and hated. While she tries to get pregnant, she reflects upon her life before the change. She had a husband and daughter of her own, but that is all in the past. 
We follow her on an almost daily basis, being there on her monthly inspection, the 'insemination', even present at a child birth of one of the other handmaid's. 
A conspiracy is hushedly talked about, but in the end, will she ever be free? 

A rather jagged review of mine, but I don't want to give any big spoilers. The novel is quite good, although it didn't alltogether meet up to my expectations. 
The world that Atwood creates is distinctly dystopian, even to a frightening level. Being a woman, I got goosebumps when she described the humble ways of her life. Not even having the permission to talk to another man, being careful to avoid eye contact. 
Having an interest in dystopian fiction, I was enthralled in the beginning, eating up the pages as I went, but I missed something in the end. There is no change, no goal she pursues, instead I got a kind of 'Deus Ex Machina' feeling from it. The Hollywoodian Happy Ending, sort of speak. And after reading sublime novels as 1984 and Brave New World, I do believe that either the character fights or they perish, and neither happens in this novel. 

I'm still giving it a good score. On GoodReads 3 stars out of 5, so if you're into dystopian fiction, you should give it a try.