In just three years the USA has gone from freedom to total control. Women and men are divided into classes, but unlike women, men can work their way up through the ranks. Women, however, have a set place in society and that place is vividly displayed by the clothes they wear: striped gowns for the lower classes, the econowives; green gowns for the Marthas, the servants of the upper classes and red for the Handmaidens, the surrogates who bear the children of the infertile upper classes. It is to the Handmaidens that the main character of the story belongs. Her name is Offred and in the time before, she had a daughter, a husband, a job and a bank account. This was all taken away from her and now she is just a walking womb. She is not permitted to read or possess anything other than her clothes. She is also not allowed to converse with anybody more than is strictly necessary, there are ears everywhere to hear what she is saying and tongues ready enough to report her words. If she fails to get pregnant she will be sent away to 'the colonies' whose members clean up toxic waste and where life expectancy is low. Despite all her attempts to remain a good citizen she gets drawn deeper and deeper into subversive activities.
I first read this book a few years ago and couldn't understand what all the hype was about. I think the reasons I didn't like it that much the first time round were that it is quite slow, written in the first person, dystopian (I prefer post-apocalyptic) and held up as an example by feminists. None of these qualities really endeared me to the story although I found the idea itself intriguing. I was used to more pace and more action. In the few years' interval my tastes seem to have broadened because I enjoyed it much more this time, probably largely due to the fact that I knew what to expect. I love the historical notes at the end, they give the story a feeling of authenticity. The same device was used in 'the Passage' and I enjoyed it then, too. It's cool to read about something in the future as if it is already in the past. As for the feminist side, well, that isn't a problem with the book, that is a problem with my understanding of the word. When I think of feminism I think of women who don't want equality but a reversal of roles. That isn't what this story is about. I really hope though, that if some government today decided that women couldn't own money or have a job, we would fight harder than the women in this book. Maybe we should start hoarding our cash in our pillows - just a thought ;-)
Our young heroine is snatched off the street on her way to school and kept in captivity to await the birth of her baby. She's sixteen and seven months pregnant. Once the baby is born it will be sold on and her body will be dumped in a disused quarry full of water. That would be enough to terrify the wits out of anybody else but this girl is different. This girl is highly intelligent with an in-depth knowledge of the sciences. She has an analytical mind and uniquely (and usefully) can turn her emotions on and off at will. This means she spends her 33 days of captivity weighing up her assets and planning her escape and revenge on her captors. It won't be pretty...
I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, reviews were ambivalent. I thought it was going to be a straight forward thriller, which, in a way, I suppose it was, but the victim was unusual. I admit the story is pretty far-fetched but it acknowledges that - all I can say is pink bear. It is fun though so why not? The idea of a cool and calculating 16 year old girl who doesn't desperately scream for rescue or quail at the presence of her captors is quite unnerving, as her abductors soon find out. And she doesn't just leave it at escaping, she is playing the long game. I really enjoyed it for the unusual up-beat writing style and the even more unusual victim. Revenge is sweet!
Fourteen year old Evie has got a long summer ahead of her before she is shipped off to boarding school. She falls out with her best friend, her mum spends her time with her new boyfriend and her dad lives elsewhere with his new wife. Evie finds herself alone and desperate for attention. Then one day in a park, she notices a couple of strange girls and follows them to a dumpster where they collect dinner. She meets them again when her bike slips its chain and they offer her a lift to their ranch. There she finds the attention she has been craving. Everyone is chilled out and interested in her. And everyone is in awe of Russell. He is the manipulative head of the cult and he welcomes Evie with open arms. She spends the summer at the ranch, doing drugs and learning about sex, only returning home to keep up appearances (and steal money from her mum). But when Russell doesn't get the record deal he thinks he is due, things go very bad and Evie has a narrow escape.
This is not the kind of book I would normally read. It is a kind of coming of age story which is not my preferred genre. Evie is a lonely, bored and vulnerable teenage girl with low self-esteem, just crying out to be noticed - one of thousands in every generation. It is easy to see how some can be in thrall to sick men like Russell. Her gradual integration into the ranch community was chilling. I liked the end, proving that you can find friends and a sense of belonging in less dangerous surroundings.The writing was great, descriptive enough to let you see the details but it didn't get bogged down.
I loved this book. It is a must read for every parent with a teenage daughter. Or maybe not, I don't think I could have stomached it when my daughter was that age.