As a Canadian bookworm, I really should have gotten to Margaret Atwood years ago. I’ve been a naughty reader, but I’ve now made the first step towards redemption.
I’d been eyeing this audiobook for quite a while now, and it’s been long enough since watching any Homeland that I thought I could listen to Claire Danes narrate this without my mind drifting to Carrie Mathison’s awful life choices or Mandy Patinkin’s beard. I’m happy I picked up this version, because her narration was terrific.
I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatter-proof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.
This novel is a look into a dystopian future where the United States government has been overthrown by Christian fundamentalists and women have been stripped of their rights and dignity. They were cut off from their bank accounts and their jobs, and they exist only to serve men and birth children. They wear robes and cover their faces, they avoid eye contact and interaction with men, they are no longer permitted to read or write, and they live in perpetual fear. Opposing any of this is seen as blasphemy.
We follow Offred (as in, belonging to Fred) as she performs her duties of being a handmaid, which is a surrogate for the child of a commander if his wife is unable to have children. Her worth is decided purely on her ability to provide a child, so every month she prays that it happens. Her old life, and her journey to this stage, is shown in flashbacks throughout the story.
What struck me while reading this was how possible it all felt, that it was so outlandish but at the same time never felt like an impossibility. I realized after finishing that this is exactly how Malala described the actions of the Taliban when they moved in to occupy Pakistan – take a highly pious community, use their religion and fear to manipulate them, and keep them uneducated.
I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born.
I really loved this. Atwood spends a lot of time gradually explaining the state of this world. As much time, if not more, as she spends telling Offred’s story, but I was still completely transfixed. She did such a great job of setting a solemn tone and placing the reader in this desperate atmosphere, and it was so easy to get absorbed in the writing. In a less capable writer’s hands, the pace of the novel would be an issue, but I found this to be a pleasure to read.
I’m quite excited to read more from Atwood. I love how she plays with the language, yet is still very direct and meaningful in what she writes. I own a selection of shorts by her, Good Bones and Simple Murders, so I’ll likely start with that.