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.