Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel the story forward, with an every woman protagonist of late twentieth century America ripped out of (their) normal and plopped into a religious police state. It’s a liberated woman’s look at the potential dark side of feminism.

“Forgiveness too is a power … to withhold or to bestow it is a power perhaps the greatest.”

Ironies: In 1985, then-current wisdom considered the Cold War as permanent (best case scenario); just five years before USSR collapsed. Today’s current wisdom welcomes the very folks intent on establishing just such a society here.

“Nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from.”

Many thought-provoking insights and epigrams. Both the fiction and the story have weathered the intervening thirty years well.

“The Fall was from innocence to knowledge.”

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)

  1. Margaret Atwood is a terrific writer. I think you reviewed her trilogy – Oryx & Crake etc.? NYTimes Book Review with current interview on how she crafted the book. A new movie of the book coming out.
    Currently reading her latest book – Hagseed – about Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s good.

    • No, I think this is the first of hers I’ve read.
      It would be interesting to compare works thirty years apart.

Comments are closed.