Author: Margaret Atwood
Publish Date: 1985
Audience: Young adult
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a set text for my A Level English Literature course, and so I decided to get a head start in reading in order to avoid spoilers in class. In hindsight, I’m so glad I decided to read it before analysing it because it gave me a chance to really connect with the characters and understand the plot as a whole.
Set in the near future, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ follows a woman named Offred who’s purpose is to produce babies in a world where most women are infertile. Whilst I am used to dystopian settings, this concept was wildly different to anything I have ever read, which made it a gripping read from start to finish. As the plot progressed, I found it increasingly difficult to put it down, which wasn’t helped by the relatively short chapter lengths! Atwood effortlessly exploits the dystopian setting to portray the issues of gender roles, and I couldn’t help but notice some aspects which were still relevant to today’s society.
Another feature I felt Atwood nailed was the use of stream-of-consciousness. It made Offred’s narrative a lot more interesting to read, particularly as it was intertwined with the use of flashbacks in order to gradually reveal new plot points. In addition, the stream-of-consciousness always felt relevant; that is, Offred was hardly ever commenting on objects that didn’t mean something in relation to her situation, such as the flowers and yeast symbolising fertility and life.
Normally I like the author to establish who we, as a reader, are meant to like and dislike in a novel. However, I really liked the fact that Atwood left many characters open to interpretation; for example, I found Offred to be extremely likeable and intriguing, but I can also easily see how others may find her irritating. Characters such as Serena Joy and Nick, however, left me with an ambiguity as to how I felt about them, and this only served to make the whole concept more curious.
Something that stopped me from giving the novel 5 stars was the overall structure of the plot. Whilst the riddling nature of Offred’s past proved a captivating puzzle, it did make the plot hard to follow sometimes, and I occasionally had to re-read sections or look up chapter summaries in order to have things make sense chronologically. This was prominently evident in the story line of Moira, Offred’s college friend, as it was often unclear as to whether the situation was in the past or present, particularly as the tense was used interchangeably throughout.
In summary, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was a gripping read from start to finish. The plot was original and unique, even if it was hard to follow at points, and every aspect had me desperate to read on, whether it be cliffhangers at the end of chapters, or the reveal of a new character. I’d highly recommend this book to anybody wanting to get stuck into an intriguing, dystopian novel, which makes you work hard to piece things together.