The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Sales for this modern dystopian classic have skyrocketed recently, and not just because a new TV adaptation is coming out. With Republicans catering to their anti-choice constituents and threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, in addition to a cabinet full of rich Christian white men (and one rich Christian white woman), women's reproductive rights are suddenly in question once more. As that old lady's protest sign exclaimed: "I can't believe I'm protesting this same shit again."

Our nameless narrator lives in a society drastically different from our own. I hesitate to describe it in much detail; one of the joys of science fiction is being thrust into an unfamiliar world and having to put the pieces together as you read, until you finally have one complete picture of that book's universe. Suffice to say: fertile women are a hot commodity, all women are suppressed and repressed, and Christian misogyny is the cause. This is an immensely powerful story about what can happen to a society when average people are too afraid - or too complacent - to speak out. Our narrator remembers the time before, her husband and her daughter and her job, misses it and them dearly, but is already frighteningly accustomed to her new life. She is voiceless and nameless property, a tool with one specific purpose, slave to a system that is built solely for her subjugation.

I don't love the writing style, if I'm being honest. It's a bit too stream-of-consciousness for me, rife with wordplay and free association, and the time periods switch back and forth frequently. That being said, I can't imagine this novel being as powerful if it weren't written in first person, which is the only way we can feel how utterly the narrator's circumstances have changed her as a person.

Atwood's inspiration was clearly the overthrow of secular government and establishment of religious law in countries such as Iran. This isn't science fiction, she's saying, this is happening, right now, right here on Earth, and it can happen here. This book is a warning; we need to fight to make sure it isn't a premonition.


Popular Posts