Review by Miss Cooter
I had always looked at the Handmaid’s tale as a book you
read in school – Boring, “grown up”, irrelevant.
I’d never even considered what the book was about.
Even with the release of the series on TV, I hadn’t actually
thought about reading the book. I was putting off the telly series until I was
in the right mood.
But, having read all the other books on my “to read” list, I
searched the ILC’s database for Dystopian Novels, something I was in the mood for.
The Handmaid’s Tale popped up, and for the first time I read
the blurb on the back of the book.
What a fascinating concept.
I read the first page.
I couldn’t put it down.
This book is the story of a woman whose entire world has
been turned upside down. All of her freedoms have been removed. She has lived
through a series of events that are not far removed from what the Jews must
have felt on being forced into concentration camps.
She is confined, redefined; her role as a woman, how she
sees herself, has been fundamentally changed by the ruling government. She is
no longer allowed to even read text. Woman are seen as subservient, but also
dangerous. The men in charge are well aware of how precarious the balance of
their power is, and how these women could tip things in their favour. If only
they were able.
The women are so controlled by law and force, even by other
women at times, that they cannot rebel. They cannot see a real way out. The
only way these woman can assert themselves is though snatched moments of
conversation, and hurried whispers under the noses of their masters. Brief
moments of shared knowledge.
Even then, the role given to these women still controls their
life. They are ruled by it: the need to conceive a child.
In a world of falling birth rates, this is now their
Their only purpose.
This story, told with beautiful, near-poetic prose, tells
the tale of one woman’s existence in this world.
She both longs for and loathes the idea of falling pregnant.
She hates the world that makes her this way, and she knows she has been
indoctrinated, and yet, even with that knowledge, she doesn’t entirely want to
escape it. To fall pregnant would mean safety. It would prove her worth.
Along the way, we also see glimpses of the world “before”.
It’s the world we know; freedom, women’s choice, sexual decisions, abortions,
divorce, laughter. Conversation.
There are many messages that could be taken from this story.
One is that a woman’s power is always limited in the view of men by her ability
create life, to give birth – that this makes her weak. Another is that
environmental changes could to lead to far reaching social changes we may never
be able to foresee. Another message is that power is always corrupt, and taking
this further, that corruption always leads to downfall.
However, the message I believe I took from this story is one
of strength. Strength of will to continue, to hold out against the next
challenge that must be overcome, to maintain – This is the most powerful
message. No matter how bad, no matter how awful the world is, there are always
moments of joy. There is always a future. Uncertainty can be hope. Not all
people are bad. Friendships can mean more than life and death. To know all of
this is strength. And, that is what this tale tells us. Strength is hope and
hope is strength, and this will carry you through the dark times.