The Handmaid's Tale: Not For the Faint of Heart

Hurray! I just finished my first book for the Challenge: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It is a multi-award winning novel that was made into a movie in 1990.

It is a dystopian (anti-utopian) novel set in Gilead, the former USA. Congress has been murdered, the constitution thrown out, by religious zealots. Women no longer have any rights, even reading is forbidden. The current “government” has divided women into groups. The Wives are the wives of the elite. Marthas, the maids, and Handmaids are for breeding. Pollution of the planet has caused high rates of infertility and birth defects. Young women, especially mothers, are prized for their fertility, and are held captive by elite males hoping to have children. But what is worse is to be an Unwoman, either old or infertile, who end up working in “The Colonies” disposing of bodies or toxic waste. This is the horrifying world Offred lives in.

Offred is a Handmaid, it is her tale. She tells of her life before the coup, with a husband, a daughter, a mother and a career. She relives the night she was captured and her retraining at the Red Center. This is her second try at being a Handmaiden, if she isn’t pregnant soon she fears what will happen to her.

It’s written like a diary, so we only know what Offred knows, which isn’t much, and we can only speculate if what she sees and hears is truth or rumour.

There are going to be people who hate this book, I know. It is a big question mark, there are many unknowns, even though Atwood does answer some later. But I know that a lot of readers like things to be wrapped up at the end and that isn’t really the point of the book. We’re supposed to question how this happened and could it happen to us. Of course, all over the world things like this have happened and will happen again. It scares me to think you could wake up and suddenly you are without rights, hardly even a human. Atwood seems to say that this has happened slowly over time, with hardly anyone noticing at first, before it’s too late to do anything about it.

Another thing I noticed was how the leaders used the women’s fears against them to say that this was a better way, they would be protected now, from the rape and other crimes against women. They justified the horrible things they were doing.

This novel was often hard to read, for me especially when she talked about her child, who was the same age as my child when she was taken from her. It often felt hopeless and full of despair. The women’s own attitude towards each other was also aggravating. They were hostile to one another, blaming each other for their situation instead of banding together (unfortunately, true now). Still, the writing was engaging and poetic, it helps that Atwood is a poet as well as novelist.

For me, I can say that this book will stay with me for a while. I know I will see echoes of it on the news and in the newspapers. I will think about it when I go to the store, put on lipstick, hug my kid, read a book…


Also Reviewed By: Wendy @ Caribousmom


  1. I read that many years ago...I should read it again. Just reading your review brought back a great deal of discomfort from it, but in a good way--it is a book that stays with you.

  2. AWESOME review! I loved this book, although I agree, at times was really hard to read. It certainly makes me appreciate the little things in life. Glad you liked it!

  3. Girl, you are kicking ace and taking names with your book reviews! This book is the real deal...maybe one day I'll sit down and re-read it again. It scared the sheet out of me the first time around.


  4. Great review! I have this one on my TBR shelves. I've yet to read anything by Atwood, but I do hope to someday. Maybe even this year. :-) Your review makes me want to pick it up and read sooner than later though.

  5. Hi,

    I went out and bought this book tonight at Borders. I couldn't help it. Your review really made me want to read this. I look forward to starting it in the next couple of days and I'll have to let you know what I think!!

  6. It is an amazing book - it's stayed with me and I still feel very, very distressed when I read about it. Have you seen "Children of Men"? It's another take on women who can not become pregnant, and it's stunning. Literally, stunning.

    thanks for the comment on my blog -

  7. Thanks, Melanie. I didn't see Children of Men, but I think about Handmaid's Tale everytime I see the ads for it. I'm definitely going to see it when it comes out on DVD.

  8. Excellent review - this book had so much in it, your review captures it all. Thank you.


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