The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Discover the dystopian novel behind the award-winning TV series before you read the 2019 Booker Prize-winning sequel The Testaments

‘I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.’

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford – her assigned name, Offred, means ‘of Fred’. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.

Masterfully conceived and executed, this haunting vision of the future places Margaret Atwood at the forefront of dystopian fiction.

About the Author:

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

My Review:

Everyone has been raving about the TV series, so I thought I would listen to the book prior to watching it.  The audio version is beautifully narrated by Elizabeth Moss, but I had to admit to my online book club that after 10 hours Iistening with less than 2 left I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on.

After a member explained the background and synopsis to me the last two hours started to make sense (slightly).

This is her explanation: The book is written from the point of view of a country (the US) which has swung to hard, religious fundamentalism after the birth rate declines and some sort of dystopian disaster (nuclear?) means that women are giving birth to deformed or dead children. The premise is that through a series of laws, enacted over time, women were slowly stripped of their rights. Now, at the time of the story, women are categorized in several ways: Fertile women are given to high ranking men (Commanders) with whom they live, are raped once a month, and hopefully they give birth to a live child. There are the Aunts, who “train” the Handmaidens, the wives, who then assume rights over any child born alive, and then there are the women who are discarded and sent off to The Colonies. There is a resistance movement within Gilead, with severe punishments enacted for anyone who gets out of step. The main character, Offred (June) had a husband and a child before the story begins..

An “interesting” and thought provoking 12 hours and now I look forward to watching the TV series with a better understanding of the story.

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