Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale is indeed a classic. I read it years ago but didn’t remember much of it. With the Hulu series coming up, I decided to re-read the book before watching the series. I’m so glad I did because I don’t think I fully appreciated the insidiousness of the story on my first reading.
For the uninitiated, The Handmaid’s Tale’s publisher’s summary is below:
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and literary tour de force.
So, how did I react when reading it? I was struck by how very timely it is for this part of our history. While I’m no conspiracy theorist, and while The Handmaid’s Tale projects an extreme outcome, we are not far off some of the mentality that lead to this society.
“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time (174).”
The Sons of Jacob manipulated the country, creating destruction and fear of another whole group of people, in order to take control. Where else have we heard that recently?
The crux of the story is the theocratic Gilead run by the Sons of Jacob, where gender roles and castes are distinct and rigid. Legitimate marriages, those of one woman and one man who had only been married to each other, never divorced, are the most highly regarded. Women who do not fall into this category may be designated “Unwomen”, women defined as “Sterile women, the unmarried, some widows, feminists, lesbians, nuns, and politically dissident women: all women who are incapable of social integration within the Republic’s strict gender divisions. Gilead exiles unwomen to “the Colonies”, areas both of agricultural production and of deadly pollution. Joining them are those handmaids who fail to bear a child after three two-year assignments. (wikipedia)”
Or they may be a Handmaid, the surrogates who get pregnant and have children for the Wives. It is their only worth. But it is a practical need, not salacious. The birth rate has declined. Pollution has led to birth defects and non-viable babies. Many of the Wives and Commanders are unable to have children on their own. Those Commanders and Wives who rank highly enough receive a Handmaid. The Handmaid belongs to the household. Her own name-her “before name” is irrelevant. Her names becomes her home: Offred, Ofwarren, Ofglen.
The ick factor is big in this one, folks. When Offred is in training to become a Handmaid, the class harshly rebukes Janine, who, in the Before world, had been gang-raped at age fourteen, and had an abortion. Whose fault? Her fault, the class chants in unison. “Men are sex machines” later in the class. The Handmaids dressed in neck to ankle dresses, and head coverings that obscure their faces, expected to look down, not make eye contact. The women need protecting. It is almost absurd as you read it, until you realize that this thinking is quite prevalent among some groups in the US today. You can read about it here, here, here, and here for just a few examples.
This is what Atwood does so well. She picks out a few things, things that may appear innocent on the surface, and shows how insidious they can become. You feel Offred’s desperation, her longing for freedom, her resignation to her fate, her desire to survive. While only a flashback in the narrative, Atwood shows how easily fear leads to complacency. The population has been taught to fear Islamic extremists, so when the Sons of Jacob execute their coup, there is a ready made group to blame. In the aftermath of a tragedy, it’s easy to look to others for guidance, to give away a few freedoms for the “safety” of all and the “greater good”.
With The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood gives a perfect example of what can happen when these attitudes are taken to an extreme. It is a quick read, and at times an uncomfortable read. But more importantly, it is a necessary read.
When I was too young to drive, but had to along on errands, I would sit in the car and read while Mom ran in and out of various shops.
I’d steal any few minutes I could to read.
Now, when I can carry hundreds of books with me on a device scarcely larger than my mobile phone, I don’t take it with me. When I have a few minutes, I scroll through Facebook or Twitter. I take a turn in a few of the seventeen games of Words With Friends I perpetually have going.
I want to go back to being “The Girl with the Book”. Even when carrying smaller purses, my Kindle can fit in there. When I read ebooks, it is usually on my iPad, so I’m charging up the Kindle now. I plan on taking it with me. Letting Facebook and Twitter and Words With Friends sit quiet for a bit. Take a few minutes out and read more pages in one of my current books. What about you?
Happy Friday! Happy Reading!
A few years ago, after a couple of needlessly tedious airline passenger interactions, I wrote The Bitchy Traveler. Thankfully, it’s been a few years since I’ve felt the need to rant about poor behavior, but this afternoon at The Fox to see The Bodyguard (which was wonderful, by the way), has warranted a post.
It’s really simple, folks. And these things should go without saying, but clearly, many people have missed the memo, so here goes.
First, BE ON TIME. I know a bridge collapsed but that was four days ago and has been on the news pretty much 24-7 since then, so it really isn’t an excuse today. When you buy your tickets, you are choosing a date and time to attend. This is even conveniently printed on your tickets, so you can double or even triple check. You live in Atlanta. You know to plan for the unexpected. You can google ways to get to the Fox and where to park. There really isn’t an excuse for being thirty or more minutes late to a show. When all the rest of us have managed to make it on time, it’s really distracting to us to have to accommodate you finding your seat in the dark after we’ve become engrossed in what is happening on stage. It’s rude.
Second, TURN OFF YOUR DAMN PHONE. This is not a new thing, people. TURN IT OFF. I heard at least six mobiles trill during the show. You know how many I should have heard? One. The one on stage that was part of the plot. You know this. Put it on silent, vibrate mode, airplane mode, or just plain off. And this includes texting. I don’t care how discreet you think you are being, it is distracting to people around you, takes away from their experience, and is, again, just plain rude. If you absolutely MUST check texts because you are on call or afraid it is the babysitter, then find a way to do it unobtrusively (I suggest an inexpensive smart watch if that is in your budget). I did not pay for my tickets to be distracted by the light of your phone, and I respect you too much to distract you with mine. Also? Don’t take pictures and video of the shows. Note to the guy directly in front of me and the guy three rows ahead of me. You were more obvious than you thought, and I cheered to myself when the green laser got you to put away your phone.
Third, DON’T GET UP TO LEAVE AT THE CRITICAL MOMENT OF THE SHOW. The show today closed with an emotional, wonderful song. And the lady four seats down (and a few people from a few rows ahead of us) just HAD to get a jump start on the exit procedures and get up during this part of the show. It was an inconvenience and distraction to all of us trying to enjoy these last few minutes of the show and be in this emotional moment. And, it is RUDE. Stay to the end. Respect the performers enough to do that.
Look, we’ve all paid good money for these seats. And things happen- I get it, there are one-off cases. But a lot of this is self-centered behavior where you are thinking only of yourself and not of anyone around you. It’s a case of bad manners and it can be avoided. Be more respectful to your fellow audience members and the performers. If you can’t do that, find a video and watch it at home.
“American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy-tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess. But it’s adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall – and thus Bex who accidentally finds herself in love with the eventual heir to the British throne. Nick is everything she could have imagined, but Prince Nicholas has unimaginable baggage: grasping friends, a thorny family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a native. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex reflects on what she’s sacrificed for love — and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.”
This is no schmaltzy romance novel. It has a surprising depth to it. One thing that I really liked about it is that Bex and Nick’s relationship progressed in an authentic manner. They started out as friends and it took them both a long time to admit deeper feelings.
I imagine most readers will think of Catherine and William as they read The Royal We and I imagine there are some similarities. Cocks and Morgan capture well, I think, the pressure of someone born the heir must experience. Their life is to a large extent predestined. There’s no asking “what do you want to be when you grow up?” because there is o only one answer, Monarch, whether or not you actually want it.
And then imagine someone not at all accustomed to the public eye, whose every move becomes a subject of intense scrutiny. You’re marrying the person, yes, but you are also marrying the institution of the Monarchy.
Throw into that a deep love for the other person. That is, I think, what struck me most with this story. I believe Bex and Nick were deeply, irrevocably, in love with each other. They were each other’s person. And that is the premise of The Royal We. And we get to read their story. We get to see the high points and the low points. We get a heartbreaking moment. We get WTF moments. We get “Girl, what are you THINKING?!” moments.
I enjoyed reading The Royal We. I teared up more than once. I laughed out loud. I felt the characters were authentic and relatable, even the person behind the title.
My only real complaint with the book is that the ending is ambiguous. I know what I want to happen. I know what I think might be more likely to happen. I’m wondering if it is a set up for a potential sequel some day?
If you like chick lit or romance, I think this is one you should definitely put in your to-read queue, especially with spring break and summer vacations coming up.
Well, this is disappointing. I went to check my links to my review of other Chevy Stevens’ books, and I realized I’ve failed to review a few of them! But you can see from my reviews of Still Missing and Never Knowing that I am a big fan of Stevens. In fact, she has become my favorite thriller author, and she’s back with another winner in Never Let You Go: A Novel.
“Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband, Andrew, was sent to jail and Lindsey started over with a new life.
Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with her own business and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When Andrew is finally released from prison, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties and left the past behind her. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But has he really changed? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?
With Never Let You Go, Chevy Stevens delivers a chilling, twisting thriller that crackles with suspense as it explores the darkest heart of love and obsession.”
There is always some delicious twist in Stevens’ novels, and this one is no exception. Lindsey has made a new life for herself, but it is hard to escape the demons of the past. Andrew’s release from prison throws all that is good in Lindsey’s world into question.
Stevens gives us a number of characters with slightly creepy aspects, or hints of an unsavory backstory, that when the twist hits, it hits hard. I actually stopped reading at that point and tweeted out a “WOW!” about it.
I won’t say any more than that plot-wise, because I don’t want to spoil anyone. This is one book that keep you turning the page, wondering what will happen next, and if there is going to be a truly happy ending. There are times the tension and suspense practically leap from the book. I read this one fast, because I just had to know how things turned out. And one of the most satisfying things in thrillers for me is not seeing everything coming. If you like this genre, this, like all of Chevy Stevens’ books, is a MUST READ.