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review 2017-10-08 02:45
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

“Don't let the bastards grind you down.” 



The future fucking sucks. 


That's one of the lines from the promotional posters from The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu, and it's a good way to set the tone between the two works. While they both carry the same chilling version of a Dystopian (but still too close to home to be comfortable) future, the series has more of an aggressive tone, more of a willingness to bring it's evils down. The most noticeable of impact of that is June. Or, I should say, Offred. Because in the book, we never really learn Offred's true name, while in the series we receive it on the first episode.


They are different, but both of them are amazing interpretations. I recommend fans of the book to watch the show and fans of the show to read the book. I really loved both.


Back to our main character, Book Offred is very passive. Almost infuriatingly so, at times, until you remember she is simply a product of the extremely oppressive society that surrounds her. She has barely any fight left on her, because it was dragged away. And she is pale in comparison to other characters in the book, other man and other women, because Offred shows how deep the bleak world can cut someone who is simply normal (tv series Offred is tougher, because otherwise the series would be a little too slow for 10 chapters). 


“Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some."


The Handmaid's Tale is a bone chilling book, a future where all minorities get permanently crushed under the boots of the ruling ones, but the true horror of the plot doesn't come on what's spoken. It comes on the chill horror of that which we never know. What happened to that one character? Where does the road lead, in the ending? We never know, and that's even more terrifying. Because our minds can take a hint. All we can conjure by our own is scarier than what the author could have told us.


This book is very topical. It was topical in 1985, and it's topical now. The true scary beings aren't the ones that are hidden under our beds, it's the very real ones that cross the street in front of us everyday. Not all humans are monsters, but all monsters are human.


The biggest character in the book isn't even our narrator. It's the unity. The unity of those that choose to fight against the power that holds them down, with very small gestures, or even bigger gestures. But still, they stand. It cannot end well. But it's better than no action at all.



“I want everything back, the way it was. But there is no point to it, this wanting.” 



Sentence: There isn't much I can say that hasn't been said before. But this is an amazing book, it's terrifying in the most subtle way, and it will jump at you when you're least expecting it. When it does... enjoy the ride.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-23 14:20
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is the reason they tell you not to judge a book by its cover. Nothing, not the cover art, not the blurb, not the recommendations of friends, set me up for what the story I read, even though all were in some way or another accurate. This story is one all its own, so I decided to look at it through the three themes you will surely hear mentioned in relation to The Handmaid's Tale.




Offred lives in a new society where the roles of women are highly regulated and enforceable by law. They wear a uniform dictated by their roles and are permitted only very specific tasks. Marthas take care of the housework, upper class wives bear children and oversee their house, handmaids bear children for wives who are past the age of conceiving and have not had children (there is an environmental undertow here that many are infertile and only one out of four pregnancies delivers a viable child due to nuclear meltdowns, chemical spills and superviruses). The city is lousy with spies and higly patrolled. There are dire consequences for any who refuse or fail at the role they are assigned.


This is all in a near future, however. Unlike Bradbury or Huxley, Atwood is little interested in new technologies. There are no jet cars or baby farms. If anything, at this point it is an alternate history since it was written in the 1980s and does not venture much beyond the technologies of the time. I found it a relief since technology tends to be a distraction for writers from the human story of the novel or even the description of structures that keep them down.




The new government, the new society we see in The Handmaid's Tale is a Christian fanatic sect. The authority of men, the strict observance of chastity until marriage, and the role of the handmaiden are derived from Bible passages and reinforced through "Pray-vaganzas" home bible readings even the language of greetings.


It had to be biblical, how can you talk about sex and gender in America without talking about the bible? Again, this was the 1980s, much closer to the battle over the equal rights amendment and the evangelical congregations leading the charge to keep women in the home. Of course it is a bastardization, the bible is rubik's cube that each church and sect arranges to fit their pleasure. This is why the husband, conveniently "the Commander" by military title in this story, is the only person in the family allowed to read or write and the bible is kept locked away from curious eyes. Which brings us to the main point.




The chorus of internet commentators awakens when I hear this word and I want to explain how this isn't a story of activism, except it is. Of course it is. Because its the woman's voice and a woman's story it is necessarily feminist. Because you can't read a woman's story without thinking about the forces, legal and social, that bear down on them in a society when women still aren't fully represented and their presence in professional setting is still somehow debated.


That said, what makes this story so powerful is not the force with which Atwood makes her points, but fact that she doesn't, that she lets the story tell you what you need to know. It's the story that carries the day, that illustrates what it means to be a woman without freedom, without a society, without ownership of even her own body or identity.


Offred is an imperfect victim/hero, she can be careless and selfish. She does stop fighting at times, she falls in with the crowd sometimes, the belief that you just have to make the best for yourself, and for a while things can seem okay, but there are no happy endings in this world. There is no escape route and that is what brings the story home. We love the heroic escape story, we had presidential candidates talk in a cavalier way about how they would take down a mass shooter if they were ever in that position. But there is no way out. There is no route to success that doesn't cross with sexism, harassment and misogyny and it is not on individual women to have to find their way out, it's on our society to stop enforcing rules meant to keep women out of power.


The afterword:


I was worried this would be just a conceit to tell us how Offred/June lived happily ever after, and I wonder if that is how it started, but instead we got a brilliant satire that deserves it's own post, really. Atwood takes a shot at academia in the form of a lecture nearly 200 years in the future, one in which June's story is completely submerged in the man's game of history. Where she is mentioned it is only as a question of if she existed at all, and how we can determine that. The lecturer jokes about the treatment of women by the Gilead Regime and, naturally, refuses to pass judgement on another culture's behavior or norms, something that turns your stomach after 300 pages of subjugation and horror. The two commanders the lecturer believes could be the "commander" of the story are noted for their brilliance in respectively designing and selling the new order that made women into slaves and pitted them against one another.


Like the rest of the story, it's cold and absurd and cruel and very definitely the way things would go in our world, which is exactly why it is so tragic.

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review 2015-01-29 22:09
Throwback Thursday: The Handmaid's Tale at 30
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Another in the shameless plug department.

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review 2015-01-07 23:55
Creepy, and dark, and depressing, but still good.
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Really, if I had to sum it up, creepy, dark, depressing and good would just about do it.  I'm not sure if it was just my kindle edition of the book, but most of the dialogue was missing quotations.  At first I thought it was intentional, since it gave everything a very monotone quality in my head, and on the page.  But then I noticed that some dialogue was in quotes, and I started to try to and find some sort of meaning behind it.  At first, dialogue with outsiders was in quotes, but then it seemed kind of random and became distracting.  Not sure what was up with that, but I didn't really like it. 


The book was a bit slower moving than I'd like.  It took about 30% of the book to really get to the "reveal" about what was going on.  And I'm still very on the fence about the ending.  Because really, what happened there?  No spoilers, just.........yeah. 


It was good because I appreciated the POV, and the sense that this could all really happen and isn't all that far fetched, which is especially creepy.  And I breezed through this in a day, so it's not like it was a slog.  I think I was depressed by the depressing tone though.  I would definitely recommend, and would read other books by her too.  Fingers crossed they are not quite as dismal though.

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review 2013-10-11 14:25
The Handmaids Tale
The Handmaid's Tale - Betty Harris,Margaret Atwood This story thoroughly engaged me from the start and really zipped past, as well-paced as any thriller. Unlike most novels that could be described as such though, this is beautifully written with prose poetic in power and imagery. It's been described as a "feminist novel" and though that's accurate enough, it never felt preachy or didactic to me; I think that's because Atwood's world is so well-imagined, so detailed, I felt both well-grounded in its reality and fascinated by its working out. Offred makes for an intriguing narrator and protagonist as we see her both resisting and being subsumed by the society around her. This novel is a must-read of dystopian fiction worthy of being shelved with Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World.
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