Once again I’m revisiting a modern classic that (*cough*) just happens to be a dystopia… Do you think I only read classic books if they involve dictatorships and extreme surveillance?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood hits too close to home with a fictional story about a country moved by sexism, racism and radical conservative beliefs. I’m a big fan of speculative fiction and dystopian settings, so this book and I got along really well. Though it has a couple of slow chapters at the beginning, I couldn’t stop listening to the audiobook* because of the permanent sense of dread. It also has really strong commentaries about ‘modern day society’ (even though the book came out in 1985).
*The audiobook is narrated by Claire Danes and she did a great job! If you visit the Amazon link you can listen to an online sample. (Audible also offers two free audiobooks if you get the 30 day trial – just remember to cancel your membership before 30 days! -)
The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of Offred (which literally means ‘Of Fred’, because she belongs to a guy called Fred). Offred lives in what used to be the United States, but it’s now called Gilead and is ruled by some fanatics who started a revolution and won. The Republic of Gilead blames women for the rising infertility problems and birth defects that affect the country. So they decide that the few fertile women that aren’t ‘rightfully wedded‘ must serve as concubines and bear children for the high class families. Non-married infertile women can either marry and be their husband’s servant, or serve as maids/slaves.**
During her stay at Fred’s house Offred is forced to be a handmaid, which means she’s a slave that does daily chores and also tries to get pregnant with her owner’s baby. She also struggles with her own feelings about the Republic of Gilead, since she remembers the old times when women were free. The flashbacks of her past are the scariest parts of this story. They show how easily people can turn against each other when they believe there won’t be repercussions. And they show how easy it is to turn a blind eye when bad things happen to other people.
Offred remembers and reflects about this stuff. She wonders if she’s the only one who hasn’t been brainwashed yet. She wonders if the neighbor’s handmaid is a true believer of Gilead, because she watches her so much. And she wonders if the resistance is real.
* *Men also suffer in this new society because their rights are extremely limited. The are forced to work for the government and accept a certain religion. People in general is condemned to death for being a certain race or homosexual.
- You are a fan of dystopian novels: If you are into dystopian novels, or YA dystopias, but want to try something more adult, this one might be a great start. It is an easy read, a little more than 300 pages and the story always keeps you wanting to read more.
- You want to get into speculative fiction: With this I mean books like 1984 and Brave New World, that describe how they imagine our future will be, but in an exaggerated way. (Like adding brainwashing, super strict governments or incredibly advanced technology).
- You saw the trailer for the new Hulu series and want more: A few days ago Hulu published the trailer for their new Handmaid’s Tale series. And it looks really cool (and faithful to the book)!
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