The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage Classics - HB)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is a classic that is having a revival since the very successful TV series. When a very handsome volume arrived in the bookshop (red edged hardback with a stunning black cover) it seemed like a good time to re-read this novel. (In fact, I realised on beginning to read that I knew the story but hadn’t read the book). Offred is living in the era of Gilead. She has a choice: breed or be sent to the colonies to die slowly from toxic poisoning or overwork and starvation. As a fertile woman, she is in demand and can be a handmaid - a special class of woman (both cherished and despised) whose role it is to provide their commanders and their wives with offspring. Offred’s memoir takes us into a bizarre world where women’s rights have been obliterated and arcane rules keep everyone in line, where as a woman you are either a wife, a martha (servant) or a handmaid, unless you are outcast or a jezebel. As Offred attempts to navigate her life without her husband or child (who has been taken from her) she finds herself increasingly mystified by the behaviour of those around her, particularly her commander, who behaves in unorthodox ways. Meetings and sexual contact are tightly controlled and ritualistic, so the Commander’s insistence that she meet him in his library puts her in great danger. The longer she stays in the household, the more tenuous her links to the past. Is there an escape from this situation in which she is obliterated as a person? Can she trust her fellow handmaiden Ofglen, or Nick the chauffeur? And what is Mayday? Atwood explores ideas of patriarchy, power and control over reproduction in this tautly told tale. If you’ve read this already or seen the TV series, you should read excellent The Power by Naomi Alderman, and for younger teen readers, Maresi is worth investigating. And if you're looking for more Atwood, there’s a stunning new edition of Alias Grace.
"Compulsively readable" * Daily Telegraph * "Out of a narrative shadowed by terror, gleam sharp perceptions, brilliant intense images and sardonic wit" -- Peter Kemp * Independent * "The Handmaid's Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story" -- Angela Carter "Moving, vivid and terrifying. I only hope it's not prophetic" -- Conor Cruise O'Brien * The Listener * "The images of brilliant emptiness are one of the most striking aspects of this novel about totalitarian blindness...the effect is chilling" -- Linda Taylor * Sunday Times *
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The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit and astute perception.