26 Responses

  1. Kathy
    Kathy October 22, 2008 at 7:14 am |

    I love the way your did this review.  It made it very easy to read.

  2. Amanda
    Amanda October 22, 2008 at 7:21 am |

    You waited to read my review until after reading the book right?  It’s interesting that you came up with the same dislike with regards to the narrator.  I firmly believe this would have been a thousand times better had it been told in near-third person, limited, and ended with the ambiguous exit with the possible Eyes.

    My book club read 1984 this summer, and one person commented that she had the same trouble with suspension of disbelief as you talked about above – how could a society so completely take over in such a quick time and how could people allow it to happen?  There was a new guy at our meeting from Cuba, and he said that 1984 was his favorite book because it did a great job depicting the life in Cuba.  That what the government said there,  you did, you thought, you lived by, even if it was 2+2=5.  Having never lived through that myself, I find it difficult to imagine, but the book was perfectly within the realm of belief for this guy from Cuba.

    Perhaps this book is somewhat like that for us?  Maybe it would resonate better with someone who has lived in a religiously-repressed societ (be it Christian or Muslim or athiest socialism or whatever).  I’ve read a lot of books about countries run by religiously-distorted laws, where the people know the holy book (whichever is involved) is being corrupted but they are powerless to do anything but survive.  I thought that Offred’s need to survive but also to stay emotionally alive was one of the most powerful and realistic parts of this book.

    But I’m with you.  I would recommend other people read it, but I definitely wouldn’t read it again myself.  I was disappointed.

  3. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 22, 2008 at 8:06 am |

    Kathy, I’m glad! I just like to organize my thoughts!

    Amanda, I only read the first paragraph, where you said you didn’t like it. Then I thought I’d hold off. Then as I read, I was so bothered by narrator. By the middle, I was so bothered I skipped to the end to see if there is some frame explaining it. The “Historical Note” wasn’t strong enough for me.

    I’ve been thinking about the third person perspective. I’m not sure that would have been as powerful to read as Offred’s own thoughts were. But again, the power was diminished by the fact that she never could have written her thoughts like that.

    The perspective comparing it to Cuba is fascinating: living where I do makes it hard to believe situations like that. But it happens!

  4. Heather J.
    Heather J. October 22, 2008 at 9:40 am |

    Excellent review – I’m glad to hear your thoughts.  I’ve been reading reviews of this book for as long as I’ve been blogging, and yours is quite different than the rest.  I like hearing a differing perspective!

  5. Jessica
    Jessica October 22, 2008 at 10:25 am |

    Rebecca, great review!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book.  I read it last week and really loved it.  Maybe I’m a pessimist, but I could see things falling quickly.  Maybe not quietly, but fairly easily.

    One part that really affected me was an offhand reference to societies in London to “Save the Women.”  I feel like there are things like this happening in the world right now (see Darfur), and I generally ignore it because my life is happy.  I’m going to try to pay more attention to such things in the future.

  6. Jessica
    Jessica October 22, 2008 at 10:28 am |

    Also, here’s a link to my review:
    http://thebluestockings.com/2008/10/the-handmaids-tale/

  7. Amanda
    Amanda October 22, 2008 at 10:42 am |

    Maybe the third person wouldn’t have been as powerful, but I still wish Atwood hadn’t let her struggle with how to deal with first person narration become so apparent to the reader.  I think a lot of the power was lost in that struggle.

  8. Toni
    Toni October 22, 2008 at 11:45 am |

    I really loved this review.  I had similar thoughts on the book but I was not able to put it into such a good perspective.  I did read it quickly as some sort of fantasy fiction.  I read it with my book club and some that read it found it disturbing and depressing.  My jaw did drop at the initial story but I didn’t find it too depressing because I guess I never ascribed a believable quality to it.

    For instance,  when I read “The Road.”  I got chilled and very  depressed because I found some sort of horrid believability to the story… probably due to the lack of details.

    Handmaid’s Tale  reminded me of a book I read in one of my book clubs called “A Gift Along the Shore” by M. K. Wren.  In my opinion this book had a more realistic take on
    “populating the earth.”  But still there was the certain portrayal of religious groups.  However, there beautiful theme of friendship between women and the preservation of BOOKS!! 

    opps..look at me go on and on….. thanks for the review.  AWESOME!!
    Toni

  9. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm |

    Heather J., I know — most people seemed to rave about how great the book was, so I guess I was only just disappointed. I still liked it and am glad to have read it!

    Jessica, that’s what struck me! That similar right restrictions are happening around the world, and what are we doing about it?! Where does one even begin?

    Amanda, good point. It’s interesting to me that many people weren’t bothered at all by it? I wonder what Atwood thinks about the narration? Apparently she was satisfied enough to let it be published as it.

    Toni, thanks so much for your thoughts. I haven’t read the Road yet. Thanks for going on… I appreciate your insights!

  10. Nymeth
    Nymeth October 22, 2008 at 4:28 pm |

    Like others said, I love the way you structured your review. And though I loved this book I understand your misgivings. About religion, I took it as an example of the dangers of extremism, be it political or religious, but I am not religious myself so it’s easier for me not to see it as an unfair portrayal of Christianity. I do understand why you felt that way, though. I think that there were some religious members of the resistance too in the book? It’s been a while, though so I might be misremembering. But anyway, I didn’t think the book portrayed Christianity accurately at all, but I thought that maybe her intention was to take a religion Western readers are very familiar with and take it to an extreme, just to show how dangerous extremes can be.

    “And then I remembered: 1932. The National Socialist German Workers Party was democratically elected to power. Within six years, non-Nazi leaders and Jewish peoples were being taken to concentration camps.”

    I agree, this is a perfect historical example of an extremist group taking over very, very quickly. Hopefully this won’t happen again, but like you said, it’s good to keep it in mind when we feel tempted to be apathetic.

  11. Tuesday
    Tuesday October 22, 2008 at 6:00 pm |

    Hm. I know I should appreciate novels like this, and 1984, for their ability to challenge the flaws of our contemporary society, whilst also providing speculation on the future of human existence. And yet I infinitely prefer books that are well-grounded in reality – I think there’s so much to capture now and in the present, without having to create dystopian societies. I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but that’s just what I think.

    I should probably read this for myself before forming an opinion, but after your (excellent) review, this particular Atwood has been pushed further down my to-read list

  12. Chain Reader
    Chain Reader October 22, 2008 at 8:49 pm |

    I feel like I need to reread this–I’ve already forgotten lots of the details.  But I remember loving the way the story unfolded a little bit at a time.  I also think she is very effective at creating the proper mood (tone?).  I also love her style of writing.  The POV issue was not even on my radar.  I would love to hear from the author why she chose to present it that way–she may have had her reasons, however annoying it may be.  I seem to remember more environmental issues being the cause of the infertility-maybe I’m getting that mixed up with another book.  I also felt like she was warning of the dangers of a fundamentalist religion taking over the government; the importance of the separation of church and state.  All in all, I love dystopias, and I was really sad when this one ended, I was so enthralled.  This is a great discussion going! I just feel like I need to read it again.

  13. Teresa
    Teresa October 22, 2008 at 8:53 pm |

    I read this book, gosh, something like 10 years ago and loved, loved, loved it. I do agree with you about the suspension of disbelief. I think that’s often a problem with dystopian novels, and I usually just put it aside and let the siutuation be what it is. However, After reading Stolen Innocence this year, a memoir by one of the child brides from the FLDS, I could start to see how this sort of thing could happen, and how it could happen in the name of religion.
    I wasn’t bothered by the distorted view of Christianity partly because, much to my chargin, I have seen people say and do all kinds of horrible things in the name of Christ. Also, there are several mentions of the Baptists’ involvement in the resistance. Being a Baptist myself, I couldn’t help but notice this, and that was enough to reassure me that Atwood was not trying to criticize Christianity in general, just a particular way of thinking and understanding the scriptures.

  14. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 22, 2008 at 9:19 pm |

    Nymeth, in my comment on another blog, someone pointed out to me that Quakers had been a good example. That’s true and I’d forgotten to mention that. But I guess it was the combination of religious extremism also distorting sexuality that really made it disturbing to me! As I think about the extremism, I realize that the Nazis were only one example in the world. There are many such societies today! Scary thought….

    ChainReader, I just didn’t like the point of view, but it was an intriguing writing style and I want to try Atwood again. I wonder, if I ever read this again, if it would bother me as much.

    Teresa, I haven’t read the other dystopian novels for years, so I wonder if I’d have the same suspension of disbelief problem with those now. But I think the narrator added to my annoyance.  I think you’re probably right that she was talking about extreme, and it’s interesting how our own beliefs shape our responses to novels.

  15. Jan
    Jan October 23, 2008 at 9:16 am |

    Gosh, it rather astounds me that most of the posters here seem to think this novel is about ‘somewhere else.’  Just stand outside an abortion clinic as I do every Saturday, and read the body language! Women, unprotected by any legal prohibition, are being literally shoved into a procedure that has too many frightening ramifications to list, psychological and physical. Literally pushed!

    Two weeks ago I witnessed an African American women pleading with a man inside the foyer of the clinic. She was on her knees, holding on to his shirt at the sides, looking up and him with tears streaming down her face. Her eyes were huge and she was clearly terrifed. I watched him knock her hands free of his shirt, and with an aggrieved and disdainful look on his comfortable face, he straightened the fabric of his shirt. And then he pointed at the door of the clinic. It made me think of the Handmaiden’s Tale with a twist: this is what happens to women who reproduce without ‘permission.’ They are powerless. (Oh that it was his body the ‘procedure’ would have been done to. Do you know that there are two tiers to the price of abortion? One with anesthetic, one without. I kid you not.)

    Some books–some stories–are not there for us to like or dislike. They are cautionary tales, ignored to our peril. They are meant, in fact, to offend.

    Come visit my blog, I deal with some related topics you might find interesting. This is a very nice blog, and it is good to read the discussions of books and ideas.

  16. Lisa
    Lisa October 24, 2008 at 8:00 am |

    I was both horrified by this book and loved it at the same time. I think that was exactly Atwood’s point. It is supposed to be disturbing. Her portrayal of Christianity and sexuality are supposed to be distortions of the truth. At least for me, that is the whole point of the book — religious extremists are dangerous. It doesn’t matter what religion it is. When any one group attempts to force their beliefs on society as a whole, it is very dangerous. Sometimes, people don’t see a problem with it when it’s their personal belief that is being shoved down the throats of people. The problem is that the next group in power may decide that they want to change things and force their personal beliefs on everyone. That is why separation of church and state is so important in a democracy. All you have to do is look around the world to see evidence of this.

  17. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 24, 2008 at 10:47 am |

    Jan, Thanks for sharing your insights! Very sad.

    Lisa, I think “horrified” is a good word, and yet I can see how people could love it. Thanks for the thoughts.

  18. Dawn - She Is Too Fond Of Books
    Dawn - She Is Too Fond Of Books October 24, 2008 at 2:47 pm |

    Rebecca – this is a wonderful, well-written review.  Your list of “didn’t likes” reminded about parts of the book that I’d forgotten (it’s been many years!).

    Interesting that you listed a struggle with suspension of disbelief (“this couldn’t happen here”), then connected the historical context in our world (my parents’ generation).

    I’ve seen *The Handmaid’s Tale* around quite a bit lately; maybe it’s time for me to pick it up again.

  19. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 24, 2008 at 2:57 pm |

    Dawn, I’ve heard so much about it too; that’s how it got up on my list!

  20. blacklin
    blacklin October 24, 2008 at 3:36 pm |

    Einstein’s political apathy doesn’t surprise me.  When the Nazis began passing legislation restricting the rights of Jews to run businesses, go to university, etc., it seemed to Einstein like another “here we go again.”  This systematic oppression had been seen before.  No one realized or admitted to realizing that what was going on was a genocide of a people and anyone else who didn’t fit the Teutonic Myth.  Other groups included: the mentally ill, the handicapped, homosexuals, blacks, and basically anyone who didn’t agree with the political talking heads of the time.

    As for the Handmaid’s Tale, I read it years ago and found it disturbing on many levels.  Not a fave. 

    Give Alias Grace a try.  I read that a long time ago, too, but I remember liking it.

    People like to believe these types of events won’t happen anywhere and yet they do.  Take a look at Darfur–it’s the same kind of genocide going on there was in Germany in WWII.

  21. blacklin
    blacklin October 24, 2008 at 3:38 pm |

    Take a look at Darfur–it’s the same kind of genocide going on there was in Germany in WWII. Edit: it’s the same kind of genocide going on there like Germany in WWII.

  22. Rebecca Reid
    Rebecca Reid October 25, 2008 at 7:31 am |

    blacklin, thanks for the recommendation!

  23. tanabata
    tanabata October 25, 2008 at 12:29 pm |

    Wonderful review, Rebecca.  I like how you clearly explained what you both liked and didn’t about the book.  For the portrayal of Christianity, I agree with Nymeth that I took it as her example of the dangers of extremism of any religion but she brought it closer to home to make her point, as it were.  I wouldn’t call it a favourite book either but it was definitely a thought-provoking, worthwhile read.

  24. Kim L
    Kim L October 26, 2008 at 2:09 pm |

    I reviewed this book as well.  I agree with you, some of the elements seem fantastic, but I think Atwood’s point is that when totalitarism takes over, it usually happens quickly.

    Anyhow, great review!

  25. Paulina
    Paulina January 10, 2009 at 4:18 pm |

    I love your reviews! Very straight forward, user friendly presentation of ideas. And I wholeheartedly agree with all of your comments regarding this book. I, too, only “liked” it in a sense that I’m happy to have read it, but will never return to it. Despite being a non-religious person, I agree with your frustration regarding the portrayal of religious fanaticism.

  26. The Handmaid’s Tale « Ardent Reader

    [...] Rebecca Reads [...]

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