There are some books that just leave you kind of numb and slightly reeling so that forming a coherent review is near impossible. This is one of those books.
It is less a work of fiction, more a warning. A warning to us all about the dangers of autocracy. I was surprised to find that this book was written over 30 years ago, as it really resonates with current events. The prophetic nature of the work is a little unnerving. There is a sense of foreboding that permeates the pages.
The story is that of Offred. She is a Handmaid whose only purpose is to breed. Her life is regimented, regulated and restricted. Freedom, something no one dares to even dream of. She lives in a completely repressive world. A world that is frighteningly similar to one we find ourselves in today.
I love the line “better never means better for everyone… it always means worse for some”. The best intentions to make a better world can very easily make a world even more feared and hated than the one they were trying to leave behind.
The previous world was one in which sex was easy, sexual violence against women on the rise, pornography prolific. We see the world of currency has gone completely digital – no cash – just a compucard with your credits on it – a cashless society. Fertility declines due to radiation exposures. And then the men in power decide to press the reset button. Create a better world, starting by changing some laws that women had previously fought so hard for. Laws that, not surprisingly, only really effect the women. The right to choose is removed with the abolition of abortion, the right of ownership for women removed and compucards frozen, the right to work removed. None of this sounds far-fetched. The world before is so similar to the world as it is now, and the world they create is eerily similar also. Some of this has already been law in our past (the right to work, vote, own property or bank accounts), some of it is law in some countries right now (the right to an education removed, the right to drive removed, laws in regards to modesty of dress), and some countries are currently trying to pass laws that sound a lot like the themes in this book.
It is natural for cultures to have peaks and troughs throughout history. One culture is hedonistic, a century later the culture is puritanical to the extreme. Instead of learning from history that extremes in either direction never work, we seem doomed to repeat the cycle ad infinitum.
No matter the laws and rules put in place people always find a way around them. In their world only men in positions of power are permitted to have a wife, sex outside of marriage forbidden, but the pleasure dens still manage to crop up somewhere (even though they are illegal too), and of course they are frequented by both the men being denied access elsewhere, and those who have wives and handmaids at home. Yet the existence of these pleasure dens was one of the reasons for the reset in the first place. Make something that is in demand illegal and it just gets driven underground instead.
This book is a brilliant work of totalitarian dystopia with current facts infringing on future fantasy. How easy it would be for this to come to pass in some form or another. How terrifying a prospect.
Completely compelling. The writing style is engaging and the pace is unhurried. My only complaint would be that we never find out Offred’s fate. Did she find Luke? Was she ever reunited with her daughter? Did she make it out? What was out there? I usually hate books that leave you with more questions than you started with, but I find that it fits well with the theme of this book. It makes it read almost more like a journal than a novel.
I’d love to find out more about the colonies and what life was like there. Was is vastly different to their little corner of the world? I’d also love to hear some of the backstory about how the world ended up as it did. We get glimpses throughout the novel, but i’d love a prequel type story too. I know we are never meant to judge a bok by its cover, but how gorgeous is this vintage classic edition i found!
I am eager to see what the recent TV adaptation has done with this story. Has anyone watched it yet? Does it do the book justice?