The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

 

It was so hard to rate this book. I have never been torn this much over a book before.
Because 1) the popularity of the book and 2) my scarce experience in reading, those two factors made me balk at making this post. I was even hesitant to post my Goodreads review – it almost felt presumptuous of me to say ANYTHING negative about this book.

I won’t bore you with my runaround – here are my thoughts:

I really, REALLY wanted to like this book. I went into this book with high expectations given the popularity and the hype surrounding this book, but alas, it didn’t happen.
Firstly, the writing. I probably should have started this book with the understanding that it would be more like Offred’s narrative/soliloquy rather than a story woven through the eyes of her. This might have been a huge mistake that I made; this style just didn’t crick with me. I felt most of the part drag and rather monotonous.

I did find the writing style very unique and distinct though; it somewhat felt lyrical at times. With the very explicit descriptions, some scenes left a huge impact on me and literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up; I really loved the dark and sinister undertones and enjoyed how the creepiness slowly crawling into my mind. It was brilliant, no doubt.

That being said though, what really bothered me was the constant back and forth between the time frames. Since this story is entirely told in first person narrated by Offred herself, there’s a lot of reminiscence of her former life, and the boundaries between the present and the past was so seamless that I often missed the difference and got confused; one minute you’re following Offred’s life in the present and the next minute you slip back into the past. I think I can make sense out of this by regarding this as a truthful reflection of Offred’s emotional process, depicting how her mind wanders off from one point to another, but this goes on and on and on throughout the book so I ended up rereading the same sentence/paragraph over and over.
The vague, hazy feel in Offred’s narration was also what bothered me a little. It gave me an impression that Offred is emotionally numbed or stolid; that made it hard for me to engage in the story.

Secondly, the lack of information/explanation.
In the beginning of the book, there’s hardly ANY descriptions or explanations are made about what kind of society Offred she used to live in and exactly what role she is tasked as a handmaid. While Offred keeps on reminiscing her daily routines as a handmaid and her former life, there’s only a trickle of information coming in at a time which barely cleared my questions. I had to keep speculating who she is and what kind of world she’s living in, I felt frustrated by not knowing enough until I reached the halfway through the book. Although most of my questions were cleared at that point, I wouldn’t say it was satisfactory enough. I still felt like enveloped in a thick fog.

As far as the dystopian aspect is concerned, this book didn’t leave as big an impact on me as 1984 did. That said, I did find this world quite disturbing and unsettling; I was totally shocked when I found out how women’s rights are stripped away in the Republic of Gilead and what consequences await them when they commit a breach of regulations and break the law. But I wish there were more dark underlining ‘being constantly watched’ type of feels running through the book; I would have loved it much better that way.

The last 20 pages (I intentionally excluded the historical notes epilogue that comes after the main story) was such a page-turner. The writing is so strong and the story takes a sudden twist and then rushes toward the stunning end. I personally think this strong portion made up for the monotonous latter half.

With regard to the ending, I honestly don’t know what to think of it; I still don’t know whether I should have taken what I read as is or speculated there’s something more.

Like I said, as I’m still wondering if I got to comprehend this story right. I’ll probably need to come back to this book again sometime later. Then, my rating and perception toward this book might change.
I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.