Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review - The Handmaid's Tale

Photo credit: Goodreads

It took me two weeks, but I finally finished THE HANDMAID'S TALE. I have mixed feelings. There were times when I was really enjoying it, but there were also times when I found myself getting distracted and wandering away.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE is set in the future, but not very far. Due to the declining birth rate and the declining morals, a radical group of Christians systematically wrested control from the government, establishing their own laws and order. Women are again the property of men. They are no longer permitted to walk around freely outside, read, or hold jobs. They are sectioned off into one of four positions: Wives, Marthas (who cook, clean, watch the children, and do the general grunt work), Aunts (who are responsible for, among other things, the training and discipline of other women), and Handmaid's, who are given to powerful men with the express purpose of getting pregnant and having their children.

The book follows a Handmaid named Offred, who has been given to a Commander. Offred spends a lot of time sitting and thinking about the past, and I think that's part of what gave the book such a sluggish feel. I understand the necessity, since it paints a great picture of the juxtaposition of her old and new lives, but there are interesting things that happen to her even now. Not a lot, but some, and I didn't feel those, particularly her relationship with the Commander, weren't given enough page space.

I also felt this book represented a pretty wild extreme scenario. Through the flashbacks of Offred's life, she tried to show the natural progression between where we are now and where they wound up, but I just couldn't see it happening. Maybe it's naive of me, or maybe it wasn't explained well, but I still felt like it required a pretty big leap to get back to the total subjugation of women. It was different than when I read Neal Shusterman's UNWIND series, and I could see that with one or two things going wrong, we could actually wind up in that world. I didn't get that feeling with this book.

And then there was the ending. I don't want to give away any spoilers for those who haven't read it yet, but I was not pleased by the ending. Talk about unsatisfying.

There were good points too, of course. It was a very well-written book. I liked her use of run-on sentences and seemingly unconnected paragraphs to give Offred a distinct narrative voice. And I suppose there was realism within the world she'd created. While I'd have liked to see something bigger and more dramatic, the roles of the characters were consistent within the story. It made sense that they all acted the way they did.

This has been on my to-read list for a while, so I'm glad I finally got a chance to. It was a good read, even if it won't earn a place on my list of favorite books of all-time. I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

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