Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
As much as I wanted to read this book because of how famous it is, my first attempt was unsuccessful. I couldn’t get comfortable with the voice of the protagonist, nor with the writing style. Later, I failed to love the TV series because it’s such a slow burn and patience is not exactly one of my qualities. I can’t even remember how exactly did I decide to give the series another chance, but once I passed the first few episodes I became addicted. As a consequence, after finishing the last season, my wish to finish the book rose again and this time I didn’t feel any of the issues that I had before. The read was smooth and compelling. But to be honest, if I were to make a comparison between the novel and the series, the book feels more like a skeleton and the TV show gives the story full body and depth.
Although a dystopia and (fortunately!), still far and different from our present, I find it absolutely incredible how accurate and relevant the book is, especially since it’s been written more than 35 years ago. Compared to other dystopian worlds, which always have a feel of incredulity, The Handmaid’s Tale seems to be built on reality at such a chilling, high level that it becomes absolutely terrifying. There’s almost no aspect of it that feels like it wouldn’t become possible any day in the near future.
With few exceptions, globally we’re living probably at the highest peak of freedom that humanity saw since modern times. And yet, looking around, you can’t help but notice irregularities all over the world, you can’t help but worry that all this freedom is more fragile than we’d like it to be. And above all, the fact that the whole world has access to live information doesn’t seem to help in any way. No country will get involved in another one’s business, no matter how abusive a government would suddenly become. They all declare their worry and disapproval and urge the abusive authorities to reconsider their ways, but that’s about it. Some news and articles for a few days and then the world forgets. That is exactly why The Handmaid’s Tale feels so real. Because if anything like it would happen today anywhere in the world, that is exactly how things would develop. All our normality, all our freedom could be suddenly taken away and nobody would lift a finger to stop it. So no matter how shocking some events are in Atwood’s story, they still make sense, they still look plausible. I can’t wrap my mind around the way the author managed to create this concept and the more I think about it, the more amazed I am.
I didn’t give it 5 stars only because I am influenced by the complexity of the TV series and therefore, by comparison, the book leaves a lot of gaps that were filled by the information I had from the show. But I highly recommend the novel. It’s somehow slow and tells all the events with such a mild and resigned voice that it might mask the atrocity while you’re reading. But once you put down the book, all the ideas will start rolling and bubbling inside your mind, leaving you with a feeling of shock and uneasiness.