Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood
published 1985
completed December 2010

The Handmaid's Tale is a difficult book to summarize without giving too much away.  It is a dystopian novel that deals mostly with the treatment of women in the newly formed Republic of Gilead.  This was my first novel by Margaret Atwood.  I have seen so many wonderful reviews of her books.  My expectations were high and that might have been the reason it fell short for me.  I hate to admit that I didn't love this book.  Yet again, a book that most everyone loves--except for me.

I'll start out with what I liked.  The premise of the story was different than anything I had read before.  As I read, it reminded me of how seemingly harmless ideas, when taken to extremes, can lead to something horrific.  In this instance, the Republic took precautions to protect women and in turn, ended up taking everything from them, including their free will.  I think the book does well at showing the complacency that eventually settles when freedom is lost.  My favorite characters were those who were willing to take risks and fight the system.

Now to the things that I didn't like.  Much has been said in praise of Atwood's writing style, but it didn't suit my personal taste.  I thought it was dry and a bit pretentious at times, especially for a first-person narration.  There are frequent flashbacks thrown in that, to me, broke the flow of the narrative.  It took me 200 pages to get into this book.  Not a good sign.  The pace picked up in the last third of the book.  The ending was ambiguous, which I didn't mind, but the epilogue was pointless.  I will admit that I skimmed it.  I don't think she needed to explain how we got this first-person account, and the way she did it was really lame.

Even though there were parts that I disliked, I'm glad that I read The Handmaid's Tale.  The themes of the book are relevant, but I didn't love the execution.  I really want to give Margaret Atwood another shot.  Any recommendations?


  1. I haven't read any Atwood yet, though I plan to. So I can't help you choose your next one. But I am glad I've read your review, because it has knocked my expectations down a bit--which sounds like it will be a good thing for me!

  2. Kathy--I think my expectations always screw with my ability to like a book. Hopefully since your expectations have been slightly lowered, you'll actually enjoy it. I think it's still worth a read even if it doesn't become a favorite.

  3. I've heard others mention the first person narrative and truthfully I don't remember. I read this years ago and hadn't heard much about it so found it really intriguing. I'd love to read it again one day and Atwood is one of my favorite authors. But I can see how her writing can come off as a bit pretentious.

    My other favorite besides this one is The Blind Assassin. I've also read Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride and have Alias Grace on the shelf to read soon.

  4. I read this one in 2010 and it had a big impact on me. But that's the beauty of books, one person loves it, another can't stand it. It completely depends on your taste/mood/experience, etc.

  5. Trish--I hate that my expectations, if too high, ruin a book for me. I did like the story, but just had a few issues with style that made me like it less than everyone else seems too. I've heard good things about The Blind Assassin and The Robber Bride. I'm definitely going to give her another try.

    Avid Reader--My mood does really affect my experience with a book. I read this when I was sick. Maybe I was just grumpy. :) I'm kind of in the middle of the spectrum with this particular book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. It was just okay. I'm looking forward to trying another of her books. Have you read any others from Atwood?

  6. I read this a long time ago but I never really sought out other Atwood books afterwards so maybe I agree with you on it!! I've heard that Oryx and Crake is good ... I'm going to try it this upcoming year.

    And would you like a smaller button for the Take A Chance challenge? I see it sticking out on your sidebar there and I wonder if it bugs you!!! I would be happy to shrink it down for you!

  7. Jenners--That's funny that you don't remember how you felt about The Handmaid's Tale. It probably means you didn't love it. I have heard good things about Oryx and Crake. I've also heard that Robber Bride is good.

    I'll try to reload the button. It's supposed to shrink to fit, but blogger is dumb sometimes. I can save it on my computer and shrink it in Photoshop if that's okay.

  8. I agree with you on this! My problem was that she was constantly trying to justify a first person narrator. I would have preferred for her to leave that to our own suspension of disbelief.

    It's been about 2.5 years since I read this book and the story has stuck with me. I don't dislike it as much as I used to and I'm soon going to give Atwood another change.

  9. Amanda--I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought her justification was unnecessary.

    Her writing style was a little distracting, but I think I will also remember the story. Do you know what Atwood you're going to try next? I think I'm going to give Robber Bride a try. I've heard great things about it.