Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood



I picked this off my shelf after Trump was sworn into office, and told myself I’d read it before it was taken away from me. As much of an exaggeration as this was (for now), I had no idea how closely the actual book would follow my line of thought. I really knew nothing about the book going into it—before seeing the trailer for the new show, I didn’t even know it was a dystopian book.

So at the beginning, I was interested. Horrified, partly. I was actually having *nightmares* when I started reading. But throughout the book my horror turned slowly to apathy, and finally eagerness for it to just be over.

I think my biggest issue here was that this was barely a story. It was an idea—a good idea, sure, but an idea with no way out. It had zero plot. It didn’t actually go anywhere. And perhaps that was the point, but it didn’t make it any more interesting. I kept waiting for something to happen, anything, but the book is a patchwork of nonevents and memories (of “before”). When something did happen it was nearly always pointless, other than to show how bleak Offred’s situation was or portray Gilead as dangerous.

While I understand that the reason for the nonexistent plot is to show Offred (and everyone) as complacent, it honestly just bored me to death. There are a lot of people who feel very passionately about this book, and more power to ’em, but I like my reads to have at least a point in the end. I don’t care how small that point is. One example is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. The whole book is a series of crazy events, leading up to the big reveal: [[[spoiler]]] it was the narrator all along!!!1! Wat!! [[[spoiler]]] Because without that ending, the rest of the book is just a series of events that ultimately don’t pay off.

I think the absolute worst part of this book was the ending. Horrible. I turned the page expecting another chapter, and I found something even worse: a fake keynote speech by a fake professor (or something, I don’t even care to check) talking about the “artifact” that they found, post-Gilead… also known as the book you just spent hours of your life reading. This ending, I honestly couldn’t help but feel, was the writer patting herself on the back for her cleverness. Ugh. The “professor” talks about how smart the regime was for this and that, he points out symbolism, such as the red habits that the Handmaid’s wear (symbolizing fertility), the meaning behind the names of the Aunts, Marthas, etc., just in case readers got to the last page and hadn’t yet seen how ~~~very very clever~~~ Atwood is. It was probably one of the worst endings to a book I’ve ever read, because it took the burden of coming up with a solid ending off of Atwood and displaced it like a shrug—”I guess we’ll never know!” I found it bullshit-y to the extreme, and it solidified my dislike of the book.

So there’s that. Two stars for the beginning of the book, which legitimately gave me nightmares. The rest was horrid.


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