Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale

I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book until now.

The Handmaid’s Tale is on numerous high school and university reading lists and I can absolutely see why. Set in the near future where everyone is divided into specialized categories (Handmaid, Martha, Guardian, Commander, Commander’s Wife, etc), we see a totalitarian society where everyone is oppressed in their own way. The story is narrated by Offred, a Handmaid, and follows her journey in transitioning to this new reality. As a Handmaid she only has one purpose – to breed. Her meals are designed to increase her chances of conception, she is only allowed out of the house during her morning walk, and she is required to wear the Handmaids’ uniform. Simple privileges like choosing an outfit or reading are no longer available to her. What has happened to her family from her previous life? Is there any way out of this way of living? Is there hope?

I devoured this book. I seriously could not put it down. The society that Atwood creates is terrifying in that it doesn’t seem altogether removed from reality. Due to Atwood’s brilliance (or my pessimism towards our society), it feels like our world really could suddenly become Offred’s world. I have heard other readers argue that they had a hard time believing the sudden transition between regimes but I had no troubles suspending this disbelief. Offred’s narration has a sad, reminiscent tone and I was more appalled than skeptical. As the book progressed, I became more and more immersed in Offred’s story. I found myself becoming paranoid with her. Who can she really trust in a world like this, when trusting the wrong person means torture and death? I couldn’t help but root for her to escape and so the book kept me on the edge of my seat till the very last page.

Beside the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly well-written, suspenseful book, I love it even more because it invites its readers to think. Though I appreciate the steps we have taken so far regarding women’s rights, the book made me wonder how much progress we really have made. There is so much more to be done. The distinction between “freedom to” and “freedom from” is raised in the book and while I have a new-found appreciation for my freedom to read, I am left wondering about our various “freedom froms”. There are still so many problematic discussions about birth control and rape. There is the thought that granting women’s rights means diminishing men’s rights. These thoughts are all brought to the forefront in The Handmaid’s Tale and really solidifies its stance as a cautionary, dystopic work of fiction.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book so I’ll end my review here, but I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. The impact of the book left me so disturbed that I couldn’t even pick up another book to read the next day. It’s one of the best dystopian books I have ever read.

Verdict: Highly recommended
Read if: You like dystopian fiction, suspense, thought-provoking reads

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17 thoughts on “Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale

    • kmn04books says:

      It was an extremely heartbreaking book for me. The fact that it touched on issues that are happening in our world (though to a more exaggerated extent) made it even more so. I wasn’t lying when I said I had to take a day off reading after finishing it. It was so powerful.

      (Thanks for commenting!)

  1. 5eyedbookworm says:

    I read this book in March and I have to say that although I liked it a lot, there were some things that made me too uncomfortable (or maybe it was my mood at that time) that hindered me from loving it. Perhaps a second reading might help me change my views 🙂

    • kmn04books says:

      What kind of stuff made you uncomfortable? The violence? It definitely wasn’t the easiest read at times but I feel like I gained a lot from reading it. Thanks for your comment!

      • 5eyedbookworm says:

        I think it was more of the fact that in the book women are viewed merely as subjects. And… well, there was this part that wives were present while you know what was going on. It was very uncomfortable for me. Overall though, it was a good book and I’m really tempted to read it again some day.

      • kmn04books says:

        I think those moments are what made the book so effective. And it made me think of how, in a lot of ways, women are still seen as objects and we have a long way to go until we really have equality. (Also important to note for the nay-sayers that giving women equality does not equal taking away men’s rights…) I definitely think it’s worth a re-read once every few years. I know I’ll be re-reading it in the future for sure! 🙂

  2. Annabel Smith says:

    Great review Karen. It’s interesting the distinction you make between freedom to and freedom from. The recent hoohar about the disgusting misogynist slogans on the Wicked Campers really made it clear to me that we still have a VERY long way to go regarding tolerance of rape culture. I think this is a brilliant book; I’ve read it a couple of times and I’m sure I’ll read it again – I love all Atwood’s books – they are always thought-provoking without being didactic.

    • kmn04books says:

      Definitely. We still have a LONG way to go; recent events definitely demonstrate that. I will definitely be re-reading this book! The end is just so chilling. Thanks for commenting!

  3. rachaeldunk says:

    Great review! I first read this in early high school, it left such a long lasting impression on me and kick started an odyssey of reading through all classic dystopian fiction. I’ve since read it numerous times and it has never had less of an impact.

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