Date finished: Sunday 15th January 2017
First time reading?: Unbelievably yes.
From Goodreads: “Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She has only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.”
I’m actually going to lead my review mentioning another book, which was written a lot more recently that this one, but is in my top books of all time. That book is “Only Ever Yours” by Louise O’Neill. The reason I’m talking about “Only Ever Yours” is because a lot of the reviews for that book often compare it to “The Handmaid’s Tale”, and after reading it I understand why.
I don’t even know how to start with reviewing this book. I’m already placing it in my top ten books I’ve ever read, and people who know me know I don’t make these kind of decisions lightly. What I found the most frightening reading this book, however, is how close we’re beginningg to come to it not being dystopia but almost reality.
In Gilead, Handmaid’s exist solely for breeding purposes. Our leading Handmaid, Offred’s name means she ‘belongs’ to the Commander, Fred, who has a wife but the Wives in this future are sterile due to all the toxins in the air. Fertile females are few and far between, and the only options open to them are to join the life of the Handmaid or to become surgically sterilised and become Jezebels, which are essentially prostitutes in clubs in the city.
The flashbacks play a prominent role in the storyline, reminding you what life was like before the Religious Right came into power, and the sudden stripping of women’s rights was something bordering on terrifying. Not just for the context of this story but because it could happen so easily. There was a moment at the start of the novel where Offred was talking about the propaganda that led to them being in this situation, such was that this was all brought in to “protect” women and the way it was worded made it almost believable that the people accepted this.
Being completely honest, my main reason for reading this book now (it has been on my to read list for a while) is because I saw the trailer for the TV show, which I really hope we get here in the UK. It looks absolutely amazing, and from what I’ve seen of the cast it’s been cast superbly. I’m particuarly looking forward Samira Wiley as Moira. I’m glad it’s getting the TV treatment and not the Movie treatment: it adds so much scope to develop it well and do justice to the story without cutting too much material.
This novel is essential reading for everyone. The open ended finale leaves you wondering, and I’m still baffled how this book which is so incredibly relevant today was written in 1986 before I was even born. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter, and it’s definitely going on my top ten list. That makes five in my list now, ever growing, and I cannot recommend this book enough. I’ve been told I seem to like gritty books, and it’s true. I love books that make you think, and that stick with you long after you finish them. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely one of those books, and is possibly now even more relevant now than when it was written 30 years ago.
My rating 10/10