I started reading the popular novel A Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood, back in October 2019. I just finished it. The book was like two hundred pages and I just. Finished. It. May 2020. It took me multiple months to finish a three hundred page book. I’m someone who will stay up for 24+ hours just to finish a good book. The fact that it took me so long to finish it should tell you what I think of it, but I’m going to go into more detail.
Let me start with the positive, most likely the only positive: the idea of the book. Amazing. A country (world?) in the future, but closely resembling very old ideas and traditions with their own twists? Very thoughtful.
First of all, what are these names? Offred? Ofglen? What? And these aren’t their birth names, they were given to them by the government. I don’t know what the point of changing people’s names was. That whole thing was weird.
Let’s talk about the concept of the whole Gilead world. Everyone is divided into groups/jobs (major Divergent vibes). You can be a Martha where you basically take care of the home. You can be a wife or commander, which are the heads of the households. You can be a Handmaiden, which is what Offred is. There are other jobs and groups, but the book doesn’t really go into that very deeply.
I want to mention their clothing. It sounds like something straight out of the pilgrims moving to America. Big, poofy, dramatic yet simple dresses. Big head dressings that would probably look absolutely ridiculous in today’s modern world. I can’t imagine making all of this progress in the world of fashion, all for it to be thrown away. Let’s pray that never happens.
The Handmaid’s jobs are to reproduce. Offred describes that there are monthly “appointments” set for when she should be ovulating, and she is basically raped by the commander of the house. It doesn’t stop there though. The wife of the house is also present, and the wife and maiden hold hands while the maiden is raped, so they can be “one.” This idea is so incredibly bizarre and disgusting to me.
Some may argue that the Maidens aren’t necessarily raped, but do you really think what they’re doing is fully consensual? They have no other choice. It’s either do that or get sent off to the Colonies, which are reportedly even worse than Gilead. Gilead is made out of rape culture, and it’s nasty.
Let’s talk about the Commander. The first half of the book I was kind of okay with him. He does his job, does what he’s been told to do from the higher-ups, and that’s about it. But then, when he made Offred dress-up in that hooker get-up? And takes her to a secret club? And then takes her to a private hotel room so they can have sex? Gross. What a pig! Offred didn’t even want to have sex with him, but she did it anyway because she was afraid and didn’t want to deal with him being rejected. After that storyline ended I concluded the Commander was a horrible, horny pig.
That’s how I feel about the whole dynamics of life in Gilead. Overall, it’s a great, interesting idea, even though some of the parts are a little gruesome and inhumane. That’s what can make a good book though: having outrageous ideas come to life on a page.
Next, I’m going to talk about why this book just down right sucked.
THIS BOOK HAD SO MUCH POTENTIAL. The dystopian subject already interests me. The details of the book where there are women whose only job is to naturally reproduce with someone they don’t even love, or even like, is so preposterous. If they were lucky enough to successfully reproduce, they didn’t even get to raise their own baby! Then, there’s the fact that those women were not even permitted to read. There was just no freedom for anybody. Everyone had their place and their own strict schedule to follow, or else they were at risk to be sent off to the Colonies, where life was evidently worse.
The whole idea of the book is amazing. It’s truly a great idea, but the author did not take advantage of it. The plot was so dull. It was basically just Offred spinning in circles inside her head and we got to watch. Very few excited things happened. The scene where Offred, Serena Joy, and the Commander “do the deed” left me appalled, not because it was descriptive, because it wasn’t, but because the idea was so preposterous to me. It was very difficult for me to picture the scene because it was so out-of-this-world. Quite frankly, it kind of gave me the vibe of a cult.
I thought the portion of the book where Offred and the Commander went to that club was going to be very excited, but I was deeply disappointed. Offred was too afraid to do anything daring or exciting (she’s such a scaredy cat), and the Commander was a creep the whole time. The only interesting thing that happened was that Offred ran into Moira, but even that wasn’t very exciting or juicy. I thought Moira would have loads of gossip and interesting details to share. Unfortunately, she did not.
I am glad Offred was able to find some sort of love and – dare I say – happiness in the novel. She and Nick made a good pair, and I was genuinely happy that she had found an escape from the horrible life she was living. Although how it began was wild. Serena Joy made her go over to Nick’s apartment in hopes of them conceiving. That was bizarre.
The scene where there were several executions definitely fit in well with the book, but again, it wasn’t very exciting. This book is very melodramatic when it could have been a fantastically interesting read. It’s almost like I wish I could rewrite the book to show how much better it can be, but that might be a little bit illegal.
The end of the book. I have so many questions. Where did Offred go? What are they going to do to her? Is she pregnant? Who’s baby is it? I HAVE to know!!
*End of Spoilers*
Let’s talk about the structure of The Handmaid’s Tale
The whole set-up of the book was truly awful. I was so confused about what we were talking about half the time. Offred would go off on tangents in the middle of a chapter. The real issue with that was that there were no indications where the tangent started, or where the tangent ended. Offred was very aloof and being stuck inside her head confused the heck out of me. I never knew what she was talking about.
Also, can we talk about dialogue???? Where was it??? It was there, but there were no indications of it! WHERE. ARE. THE. QUOTATION. MARKS?!? I could hardly tell when Offred was thinking to herself, or talking aloud to someone. The syntax of this whole book was just downright awful. I think this is the main reason it took me so long to finish reading it. It hurt my head trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
Overall, this book was a terrible read. ⅖ stars. Those two stars are for the idea and concept of the book. The rest is awful. The plot was dull, and the structure and syntax was awful and confusing.
Many of you know that the sequel of the book, The Testaments, was released last year. I was on the fence of if I wanted to read it or not. When I finished The Handmaid’s Tale, and had so many unanswered questions, I was thinking, “yeah, I’ll read the next book because I NEED my questions answered.” Well, I read some descriptions of what The Testaments was about, and quickly realized that it does not even include Offred, but follows three different people. Sure, I’m interested in how other people have experienced this strange world, but I am absolutely not curious enough to put myself through that kind of syntax torture again.
Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood? What did you think?