sometimes witty book reviews
A mysterious parcel arrived in the post over summer. There was no return address and no note left inside. It contained only Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). After reading the blurb I freaked out a bit – who was sending me anonymous books in the mail about mass environmental extinction and slave-like breeding programs for fertile women?
I immediately rang anybody who often recommended me books or had ever sent me a parcel by post. Luckily, it was good friend who, having excitedly read Haidmaiden cover to cover, told me she had got online and bought second hand copies for all her reading friends.
*heart rate stabilised*
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Atwood creates a nation of people driven by the need to breed. Huge radiation levels have left most of the land that was the USA uninhabitable.The Republic of Gilead has structured it’s warped Christianity-centred state around the women who are still able to give birth. The Commanders of the regime wear black, their wives blue; the Guardians (soldiers) wear green, the ‘Marthas’ (housekeepers) brown. Some women – wear red.
These are the ‘Handmaids’ – the fertile few. Stripped of their former identity, they are indoctrinated with this new order’s values and beliefs then sent to the house of a Commander to have his (usually sterile) wife’s children. All three are mandated to be part of the act of creating said children – Old Testament style (Genesis, 30: 1-3). The heroine, Offred, is a newly recruited handmaiden. She had a husband and a child before being caught at the border of Gilead trying to escape. Hers is a tale of survival and slim hope in a terrifying new world; where are her family? will she conceive? who and where are the resistance? will she get out?
It’s not usually a book I would read – particularly given the bizarre nature of it’s arrival in my life. Yet, just like my overly-enthused parcel-sending friend, I read it cover to cover with great rapidity. Atwood’s style is eerie and compelling in it’s matter-of-fact tone. The plot is unnervingly believable and unsettlingly conceivable as a new world order. There is respite of sorts in the final chapters, but only at the at the very end of a very chilling read.
If you need to pass it on, warn your friends about incoming mail first.