A few months ago, I asked a friend to recommend a book for me to read. However, the condition was that it could not be just any book, it had to be a book that changed her perspective and outlook, a book that made an impact. With that in mind, she recommended The Handmaid’s Tale.
The novel, written by Margaret Atwood, tells the story of a handmaid, Offred who is assigned to the Commander, so that she can produce a child for him and his wife Serena Joy. The couple, who I imagined to be in their 50s, are unable to have children, like most of the population, due to an overabundance of chemicals which have caused a reduction in fertility.
The idea of the handmaid’s tale came from the story of Leah and Rachel, the sister wives of Jacob (in the Bible). Rachel, seeing that her sister Leah had given birth to sons, whilst she remained childless, asked Jacob to take her handmaid instead, so that the child born of the handmaid could be her child. Both Leah and Rachel used their handmaids to produce children for their husband.
Reading The Handmaid’s Tale as my final book of 2020 was a great choice for me. The book, like 2020, is a world where everything changed from what we used to know in such a short period of time. Of course, I’m not comparing staying indoors due to a deadly virus to being a handmaid assigned to a man as a walking womb with no freedom, no relationships, and zero choice. However, the handmaid’s description of a world she no longer recognised felt familiar to me.
The novel is one of intrigue and anticipation, as we never know entirely what is going on as we see everything from the perspective of Offred. We see the new world through her eyes and only know what she knows. The reader is constantly left with unanswered questions as we, like Offred, do not know who to trust and who to be weary of.
I found the novel to be well written as I was fully immersed into this new world. Atwood does a brilliant job at navigating the reader through the different aspects of this new world. The novel follows the form of flashbacks as Offred takes us back through her memories of her life before, one where she was married with a child, one where she had a job, friends and freedom.
Offred’s character, although not revolutionary, participates in subversive behaviour as a form of rebellion against the regime. Through these small subversions, we are left anxious but overjoyed at the small bonds that she forms with others. We are excited for her little victories.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this novel, and I am looking forward to starting the sequel The Testaments in the new year. Especially since the sequel won the Booker Prize 2019 along with Girl, Woman, Other, as joint winners. I rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Thank you for reading.