Never has a book made me so angry as The Handmaid’s Tale. This isn’t even the first time I have read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, it’s not even the second time I’ve read it and yet I can’t remember having such a strong reaction in my previous readings.
Written in 1985 and set in an America of the not so distant future it describes a country of significant patriarchal rule, where women are little more than objects or worse vessels for carrying babies for wealthy couples. It is a country full of few pleasures or enjoyments, of rigid routine and the ever present threat of being apprehended or killed for breaking some minuscule rule. It is also a country in transition, where those who live through this horrific ordeal still remember the way life used to be; a memory that can mean death.
So many parts of this novel made me so angry. The treatment and belittlement of women in the new country is just shocking and so incredibly well written, but it is the life before that has the most profound effect on me. The gradual process of removing women’s rights is so cleverly done and so manipulative, exactly as any attempt to dehumanise and abuse any group of people always is. When the protagonist wakes up one day to find her bank cards have all been blocked and that all the money in her account has been transferred to her husband is unbelievable, but what is worse is her husband’s acceptance of this. I just remember reading it and thinking how can you be so compliant? How can her husband just accept this? The hardest parts for me to read were the reflections on her life with her husband and her child, especially when she describes their escape attempt. I found these parts of the novel so uncomfortable and sickening to read, so much so that I skim read a lot of them. I can’t quite pinpoint if this is because of my age but the thought of a government taking your entire life and your child as well doesn’t bear thinking about and it made me feel sick to my stomach.
I don’t quite know why The Handmaid’s Tale has never made me so angry before. Maybe I have become so much more politically and socially aware since I last read it 5-6 years ago, maybe it is because of everything that is currently happening in the world or maybe it is simply my age, who knows. All I know is that I have never had such a strong negative reaction to a novel in recent memory. This is such a thought provoking novel, it is brilliantly written and narrated – the Historical Notes at the end are pure genius and a stark and cold realisation as to how insignificant women had become – and I truly believe it is a novel that everyone should read.
As was inevitable, life got busy! It’s the end of half term and as I sit with my morning cup of tea I thought about catching up on my blog posts and then I realised that I would have to write posts for three books, which seems a tremendous challenge so I have mushed them altogether.
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
I started this on a miserable train journey to London and I was hooked immediately. I have heard quite a few people talking about it and seen various posts about it recently and I knew it was something I wanted to read. The Light Years is the first instalment in a five book series following the lives of the Cazelet family, wealthy owners of a timber company. It centres on two summers shorty before the Second World War spent at the family home in the country with three generations of the family visiting, the ages ranging from 70s right down to new born babies. Howard’s writing is superb and I was quickly enthralled in the lives of the family and their servants; there were two moments in my reading where I actually gasped out loud and couldn’t believe what I was reading, one because of my preconceived idea and one from just shock in general. I loved it so much I have lent it to my mum and I want her to hurry up and read it so I can talk to her about it. I imagine I will write a big review when I have read the entire series and I cannot wait to start book two. It’s on my kindle so I was thinking about leaving it until I go to Canada but I don’t know if I can wait that long.
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
I am slowly making my way through Thomas Hardy’s collected novels; I love his writing and the Wessex settings especially as I grew up in the area and still live within easy driving distance. Under the Greenwood Tree is Hardy’s first novel and centres on a small village and the growing relationship between Dick Dewy and Fancy Day. It explores a change in the musical ritual of the village and introduces the idea that change was beginning to affect all areas of rural Victorian life. This wasn’t my favourite Hardy novel, I liked it but I didn’t feel the need to rush home to it and I wasn’t overally interested in the storyline. I wonder if it is because it was his first novel and he was still developing his craft; I might try and read the remaining novels in publication order.
Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter
I randomly picked Last Seen Wearing up two days ago having watched ten minutes of the Inspector Morse episode on ITV3. I have vague recollections of attempting to read the first Morse book when I was teenager but I didn’t get very far. I love it when I pick up a book on a complete whim and it turns out to be an amazing read and that was certainly the case with this one. Dexter’s storyline is fantastic and I kept thinking I had solved the answer and then something else big was revealed. What was refreshing about this was that Morse also didn’t have the answers right away and so you felt you were on the exact same journey as him. Not that I don’t love Poirot, but the fact he knows it all can make you feel a bit stupid sometimes. Interestingly, the character of Morse seemed slightly different to the TV programme and the excellent portrayal by John Thaw. There were parts of his character that I don’t remember being mentioned in the TV programme and it was interesting to see his inner conflict.
It is always difficult to muster the energy and enthusiasm in the freezing, icy mornings of January; after the joys of Christmas it can seem like a relentless month. Luckily for me I have had a pretty amazing start to the year, yes it has been busy but the kind of busy you don’t mind.
Girl, Missing by Sophie McKenzie
Nomad by Alan Partridge
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (current read)
I go through phases of scouring my local charity shops and feeling the need to buy all the books I can and this is something that I did throughout January, adding some of the pictures books to my already overflowing bookshelves. For the last year I have been listening to a variety of book podcasts and one of my favourite ones is Tea or Books? hosted by Simon at Stuckinabook and Rachel at Book Snob. Rachel has been talking about her MA in Victorian Studies which has reignited my love of the Victorian era. For months I have been searching my local charity shops for a copy of A.N.Wilson’s The Victorians (I don’t think I could justify paying full price) with no luck; I finally caved and bought it online last week only to find it a charity shop a few days later. Why is this always the way? Luckily my mock frustration didn’t last long as I found a copy of Victoria alongside it and I picked this up instead. I am looking forward to half term where I will hopefully have a chance to really get in to some of these bigger books.
One of my key aims for this year was to restart yoga and to consistently practise and I am so pleased with the class I am currently taking. It is run by a young teacher and is more fast paced and exciting than the class I was attending last year. It takes place in a cute little studio that I swear must be a converted garage or something and I always leave feeling so relaxed. I do have to try so hard not to laugh when we chant, but I’m starting to hold it together.
I finally made it to London to visit one of my oldest friends; she had a baby at the end of November and we spent the entire day – with baby – just strolling about and gossiping. I LOVE walking around London even when it is a bit grey and miserable outside and luckily my friend lives in Central London so she was able to walk to meet me at Waterloo and we just moseyed on from there. Obviously there were two shops I just had to go to (Lorna Jane and Persephone Books) but other than that we had no real plans and just went where the mood took us. Another of my favourite things to do in London is visit the second hand book stalls under the bridge by Waterloo (I’m sure it has a proper name). I love scanning through the books but managed to resist temptation, especially as it was nearing my train time. Freya bought some really cool retro books for baby as you are never too young to have books.
In my department we are super cool and have decided to host a Come Dine with Me competition with each member of the department hosting a night each month. To ensure no cheating takes place we have had to organise our menus in advance so that we can’t change it after someone else’s night. This month’s meal was amazing and Caribbean themed and she has set the bar high. I am planning a Murder Mystery themed evening which I am excited about but I am also in the process of organising a move so that could be somewhat problematic with boxes everywhere although I might just have to deal with that.
After a long day at work my new book greeted me on the doorstep when I arrived home!