Let me start off this review by apologizing for apparently not reviewing any books since I finished will grayson, will grayson in September. Whoops. I promise I’ve actually read quite a few books(Mia can testify, since I returned all the books she has sent me, up until the ones she brought out in November), but I keep forgetting that this blog is ALSO about books! Whoopsidoodles! I started reading this one in Mexico, got a little bit more reading done on the place from Tucson, and then finished it up while utterly and completely sick as hell this weekend.
Despite that rather silly introduction, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve read in a long, long, long time. The novel takes place in America(Though it is not called as such, but considering specific states are mentioned and escape is suggested into Canada, it is definitely the US). I’m not clear if when the book was written it was the future, because the publication date is 1985, but there really aren’t clear dates, just hints(use of cassette tapes but additionally mentioning compact discs). It is a rough read. Not because the prose is unpleasant: Atwood’s style jives well with how I like to read, and the first person narration is an intimate way to tell this story. It’s rough because the world created is one that fills me with dread.
One day, a law is passed that says women can no longer hold property: their bank accounts are frozen and collectively, they are all “let go” from their job. Essentially, the government has stripped women of their rights, but there is, to me, a twist in how this is played. The protagonist, Offred(as she is called in the new world), lived in a time where women worked and had the vote, and was able to laugh at her mother’s feminist ways, and then had all of her rights taken from her. She remembers wearing jeans and working and going to university and so the world in which she lives is as strange to her as it is to us. This is what made the book so painful: envisioning our own government stripping women of their rights. From there it only gets worse: a creepy Christian sect becomes the official religion, first shipping Jews out, and then killing anyone who doesn’t convert/leave the country. This religion makes illegal sex for recreation, with the focus on procreation, to the extent that military men unable to make babies with their wives are given state-sanctioned vessels like Offred for the purpose of having a child.
It…isn’t as hard for me to believe as I wish it was, which is what makes it scary. Not to get too political, but between the NDAA eliminating due process for suspected terrorists(a term which will as likely as not be expanded greatly) and a new bill being considered in Congress that would allow citizenship to be revoked for convicted terrorists(frightening when you consider that movements like Occupy might be considered terrorist organizations by less savory governments for daring to protest), I struggle to conjure the disbelief necessary to make The Handmaid’s Tale just a book. For me, it is almost a warning, a reminder to be more aware of what the government is doing.
I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone. It will make you think, deeply, about the freedoms you currently have and how easily they can be taken away.