The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – Book Review

Hello humans! It’s time for another ‘reading and reviewing books by problematic authors is hard’ segment! With Margaret Atwood, it’s particularly hard since she’s so synonymous with feminism. Sadly, she’s become far more synonymous with white feminism which is not good at all. I bought this book because I felt like it was something I needed to read, it’s been on my list of ‘classics’ to read for some time and I do think it is an important book. So this is my disclaimer that this book and it’s author do not necessarily represent the principles of intersectional feminism by which I would like to live my life. But it is a book I read this year and so I am going to review it!

The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood

Goodreads Summary:

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 years 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…

Find The Handmaid’s Tale on Goodreads

It’s interesting reading more of a well-known book, I’m so used to reading some obscure YA novel that doesn’t come out for a couple of months so the only people I can share it with are book blogging people (and for that I am grateful or I’d be all alone in the world with naught but my TBR pile). The Handmaid’s Tale is, by contrast, is so well known, especially when you happen to be hanging out with as many English students as I was when I was reading this. Maybe that’s a sign of how much the book has had an impact on readers, though I’m sure the TV adaptation has done a huge amount as well. I didn’t read this for the pats on the back (unlike when I forced myself to struggle through Anna Karenina) but it was interesting to get into chats with other people who had read it.

But that’s not what this review is about. This review is about the book! I’ll start with a content warning – if you don’t want to read about the horrific treatment of women, including non-consensual sexual encounters and just violence, then don’t read this. If you are ok to be reading things like this, it’s still deliberately very uncomfortable. Atwood does a good job of completely setting you at ease by making everything incredibly plausible, the biggest terror in this book is the complete resignation to these things. In YA novels today our female protagonists rise up against their oppressors armed with bows and arrows and the like. In Atwood’s dystopia, there are no uprisings, there are only small rebellions loaded with guilt and fear.

I also found it so clever that this wasn’t a dystopian society many years in the future, it wasn’t a case of ‘the world has been like this for hundreds of years. These changes had been made in Offred’s lifetime, she could remember the time before when women weren’t treated like this. It makes it even more disturbing that people could be indoctrinated in such a short time period.

This book isn’t perfect, it isn’t a paragon of feminist literature, but it is an important book nonetheless especially in the times in which we live. It has also been an influential book, something which I think is also significant to recognise. I personally found it to be a powerful setting that inspired me to read more books like this and to keep fighting for my voice, and for the voices of all women.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

All opinions are my own.

What say you? Have you read this? What other books do you think have been influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale? Let me know in the comments below.


5 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – Book Review

Add yours

  1. I am a bit lenient on this book because it was written in the 80’s — I’m curious to know if she would have written it in a different way now! The thing that gets me about Atwood is that she’s one of those authors (or has been in the past) who claims she doesn’t write genre fiction. Lady, this is pure sci-fi! Stop trying to be lofty about literature! I think she has since gone back on her annoying claims that she’s never written science fiction, but it still makes me mad.

    I did like this book though! I didn’t know anything about it being problematic at the time, so I’d be interested in rereading it with that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I remember the genre bending panel at YALC where they were talking about that! It’s like saying…ok I can’t think of a good example (it’s early…) but YES! I think you’re right that it’s mainly a product of its time, and the amount of Handmaid’s Tale imitations I’m reading at the moment just shows how influential it was/is.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s rare that I see a review of this book that isn’t unadulterated praise, and I’m here for it! And I like that you brought up Atwood’s ‘white feminism’ because that’s my huge problem with The Handmaid’s Tale – how Atwood essentially appropriates historical experiences of black women (i.e., slavery) and says ‘wouldn’t it be bad if this happened to white women?’ I actually don’t blindly hate this book and I do think it has a lot to offer feminist discussions (especially as it was written in the 80s, obviously) but I don’t think it holds up as the Seminal Feminist Text that a lot of people want it to be. But I totally agree with you that there are some powerful moments that make it worth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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