The Handmaid’s Tale

38447Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Source: library
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: The writing was truly fantastic but the plot was slow and the ending was unsatisfying.

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… (Source: Goodreads)

It’s possible I started this book with my expectations too high. I’ve heard nothing but the highest praise for The Handmaid’s Tale and I was convinced it was going to be amazing. The writing was everything I could have asked for. Every word was selected thoughtfully. Words were often used to convey multiple meanings or to connect several disparate ideas. I don’t usually notice quotes I especially like when I’m reading, but in this book I was constantly savoring words and phrases. The writing was so beautiful I just wanted to read it out loud and feel the words on my lips. The world-building was done incrementally through Offred’s daily experiences and occasional memories. I loved that I constantly wanted to know more without feeling as though the author was using annoying plot devices to withhold information.

By page eighty or so, my love of the writing could no longer distract me from the fact that nothing but world building had happened yet. Towards the end events do become more exciting. Things happen that are outside of Offred’s normal routine and which require her to make some tough decisions. However, even in the most exciting scenes, the writing stays beautiful and slow. I never felt completely swept up in what was going on and the ending in particular felt emotionless to me. After the good things I’ve heard about this book, after the spectacularly beautiful writing, after the intricate world that was built, I expected more than that. The ending felt very flat to me. So while I will try more Margaret Atwood, if only to luxuriate in more of her beautiful writing, I felt a bit let down by this one.



Filed under Classics, Dystopian, Fiction

13 responses to “The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. deweydecimalsbutler

    I felt like the ending was appropriate because the story of women is unfinished, so as long as we’re still fighting to gain ground then Offred will always be running towards freedom – but never quit there. Anyhow, I find it funny we both wrote about The Handmaid’s Tale this week.

    • Wow, that’s an extremely thoughtful way to look at it! I think this would be a great book club book since I feel like the author wrote the book exactly as is very deliberately to make you think.

  2. This is one of my absolute favorite books, and I’m sorry it wasn’t a good read for you. I think, in this book, the actual plot is less important than the themes and ideas it expresses. Atwood spends so much time building this world to explore how bad people can twist something pure and good and use it for evil, what the world might look like if women lost all of their rights, and how easily that could happen. The twists at the end serve to explore the hypocrisy of the men in power. I loved the ending — ambiguous endings are the ones that tend to stick with me — but I can see how it could be unsatisfying.

  3. That stinks that you didn’t love it! I read it when I knew it was popular but before I knew what a classic it was, so I enjoyed it but didn’t love it like some others do.

  4. I think a big part of this is also when the book was written (1985) and how far women have (or have not) come. Similar to what DDB says in the first comment, that no matter how far women have come, there is still not equality and something as terrifyingly real as what happens in this novel could happen. I think that’s where Atwood shows her mastery in choosing to write about things that are just one step away from where we are now and that is incredibly eerie the more you think about it!

    • Something I took notes on but which didn’t end up in the review was how surprised I was when Atwood presented a plausible way this world could come to be. Unlikely, sure, but at the beginning I thought this could never happen without protesters stopping it. It got to be a much scarier idea when she showed how this could come to be and I think you’re right, that took a lot of talent!

  5. I’ve always had much the same reaction to Atwood’s novels. Beautiful writing, spectacularly realized themes, insanely creative worlds…but all lacking some spark of connection which would make it come vibrantly alive for me. Yet her subject matter and the way in which she presents it always ends up making me feel satisfied, even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy the experience. And as other commenters have pointed out, discussing her novels is always a sheer pleasure.

    • Wonderful! I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt it was missing that little something. I certainly didn’t dislike it though and will probably read more of her work for all the great things you mention and which I agree with completely 🙂

  6. It took me a while to finish this one, and as you did I loved the language and the topics it was dissecting, but it just didn’t grip me.

    • With a book like this that has so many rave reviews, I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite fall in love with it. I will definitely give Margaret Atwood another try, because it was so thoughtful and well written, but this one wasn’t the instant favorite I expected.

      • I felt exactly the same! I’ll give Atwood another go as well, but I don’t think my expectations of enjoyment will be as high.

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