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.