Saturday, August 7, 2021

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

It's been on my to-read list for a while, and I'm glad I picked it up finally. It wasn't what I expected. I was expecting a sort of Woman Versus The Dystopian State tale, something along the lines of 1984 or Brave New World but with more women. And instead, it was a much more internal look at the how one responds to changing systems and to oppression - the lies we tell ourselves to survive and the lies we tell ourselves to forgive ourselves for perpetuating oppression.

The prose was beautiful; vivid. I think if there were more women in the metal scene, there would probably be a Handmaid's Tale concept album. A lot of very metal motifs: like contrasting flowers/life with rot, Offred's thoughtful reflections about her surroundings giving way to unbridled hatred about her situation, the ghost of the former Handmaid in Offred's room, mistrust, surveillance.....

The dynamic between the Commander and the Handmaid was well woven and reminiscent of much of the #MeToo kind of stories (despite Atwood's somewhat poor take on the movement). The commander trying to lead Offred into saying everything is better now than it was before; the way he exerted power over her to make her attend him and visit the brothel with him; the way he deludes himself into thinking she was there because she wanted to be....

I wasn't such a fan of the epilogue. The details of the world were not particularly interesting to me, and the issues Atwood takes aim at (AIDS, nuclear power plants) did not age all that well. The epilogue critiques how little we are able to empathize with the pain/humanity of people from centuries ago - but the tonal shift wasn't quite what I wanted to read at that point.

I read this during the Summer of 2020, Shelter In Place orders intact, the week after George Floyd's was murdered by the police, with curfews lasting days in cities across the country. I saw somewhere a criticism that the world reflected in The Handmaid's Tale is too unrealistic; society doesn't change so quickly. That criticism rings so hollow right now - it is very easy to see how society could change so significantly over the course of a few years. I hope it does - but in a very different direction.

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