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The Handmaid's Tale
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93 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It really pains me when I read a book that is hailed as a classic many times over but for some reason or another it just doesn't click at all with me. This is the case with The Handmaid's Tale, which is unfortunate because I was very much looking forward to reading this book. I really really wanted to like this book but I can't force what isn't there for me.

The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel set in Gilead, which is formally part of the USA. Most of this book is told in the first person perspective by a character named Offred. Offred is a handmaid, which means her sole purpose in this society is to produce children for her commander (whose name is Fred, Of Fred, you see). Because of the fallout from a nuclear war most women are unable to have children, but Offred is thought to be fertile so during times when she is most fertile she is more or less forced to have passionate-free sex with the commander for the sole purpose of having babies(since his wife is unable to do such). Other women play their role as well. "Aunts" keep watch on the Handmaids and are allowed to read and write (unlike the Handmaids), "Wives" are the highest level caste, whom are married to high ranked men. "Marthas" are older, infertile women and "Econowives" are women who are married to lower ranked men. For men there are commanders, who are high ranking men, "Eyes" who are like the police and "Angels" who fight the wars. Only babies who are deemed as "keepers" are kept, "unbabies" vanish to somewhere unknown. There are other elements such as the Wall where people are hung-up dead for all to see, if they violate the laws of Gilead.

What we have is an excellent setup for a good novel but unfortunately there are some serious issues with this book.

First, this novel is really disjointed. The novel often bounces between present-time and Offreds past, but the transitions aren't smooth. This novel is written in a stream of concious style and it just doesn't work for me. Because it bounces around all over the place it can be a bit confusing at times which draws me away from the story.

Next, the prose is just bad. I understand what Attwood was trying to do here, she's trying to make the character sound more real, but it often feels boring and the areas that are supposed to feel emotional just fall flat. It doesn't have that organic feel to it like, say, 'We' by Yevgenny Zamyatin, which is also written in the POV of the protagonist. Attwood often times tries to sound poetic but to me it comes off as just plain cheesy. She'll often write a cheesy poetic line, followed by a word or two which is supposed to feel impactful but it just doesn't to me. Or she'll write repetitive lines to try and build on the impact, but again it falls flat for me, for example -

"The Commander is the head of the household. The house is what he holds. To have and told hold, till death do us part. The hold of a ship. Hollow."

Or

"What I feel towards them is blankess. What I feel is that I must not feel. What I feel is partly relief, because none of these men is Luke. Luke wasn't a doctor. Isn't."

Or lines like -

"Moira had power now, she'd been set loose, she'd set herself loose. She was now a loose woman."

This type of prose is strung throughout the book (in fact I just fumbled through a few random pages to find these for this review, there are way worse). I was constantly drawn out of the story because of the cringe-inducing prose.

The characters are also a bit flat. Offred is *slightly* three dimensional but most other characters are stuck in two dimensions. A good dystopia needs characters that really pop out of the page to succeed in pulling at my heart-strings.

Finally, the ending fell flat. There is virtually no resolution. It seems like Attwood was going for an ending which would spark conversation (and for many people I'm sure it does) but I really don't like books where there is no resolution, you have no idea what happens to the protagonist.

So, unfortunately this book just didn't work for me. It's hard for me to say I don't recommend reading it. Perhaps it's me and I'm just missing something. So, even though I give it a pessimistic 2.5 (rounded down to 2) I'd still say to check it out because so many people love this book.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
It's been years since I've read this so please bear with me. I'm not here to debate the literary value of the book. Initially when i read the description on the back cover i was intrigued. However, I actually became so annoyed that I returned it to the store. For one thing, of the reviews that I've read people seem to keep forgetting that the very first and last chapters (or the epilogue and prologue....as I said it's been years since I've read it so i don't remember how they were labeled in the book....) are happening even further in the future and the story part of the book is supposed to be a recording of one particular woman's experiences in the past that a council is listening to. So technically for those people the story is part of their history. And so, my annoyance with the book began early:

What initially happened to drive this part of the US to such extremism? (and since for some reason *eyeroll* there seems to be a weird debate on wether or not this is an anti-Christian book....for the record i'm agnostic and couldn't care if these extremists were christian, muslim, shinto, hindu or zoarastrians.....they were extremist nutcases pure and simple. Perhaps whatever caused the apocolypse in the first place screwed with their heads...) I'm assuming (since the council members discussing this "recording" hint at it) that there was some sort of nuclear war/bomb/whatever that plunged the country into chaos or a post apocolyptic state and somehow these extremists took over. It's mentioned numerous times that the women (ALL the women even the handmaidens....) are not necessarily assured of their fertility. The Aunts and wives of the commanders are too old or because of whatever happened have been determined that they are NOT able to have children. The handmaidens talk about when or if they do become pregnant whether or not the baby will become a "shredder." What does this mean? What has to be wrong with the baby for it to be considered a "shredder?" and if it is a "shredder" what happens to it? (besides what i'm assuming is the obvious b/c of what they are called....) And since this aprticular handmaiden is able to remember her former life before all the chaos what would even compel her to just give in? It seems to me that this is just a small part of the US...and who are they fighting that this has become a military state?

And, seriously, how in the world were these extremists able to convince these people that this way of life was the way to live? I would also think that some intelligent people amongst these extremists would try to consider the effect this type of "breeding" would have on the human gene pool? Why is it just the old men that are allowed to have sex with the handmaidens? I'd think the fact that there are still young men around would HELP because young men are supposed to be more virile.

Just thinking about this book makes me wish I had never read it. Most of the time while reading this book I felt completely confused and found myself saying "wait? what? why is this happening again? what is the reasoning behind this again?" BLEH!!! I felt like there just wasn't enough background information about the time and place to get a good understanding about the story in and of itself. And why even bring in the epilogue and prologue if you aren't going to elaborate on the future...why are they even studying these "recordings?" I don't know if I would recommend this book to anyone which is why I decided to give it two stars. Perhaps others out there can see more into it than I can and would find the book interesting. But, if you're one of those people who need to know how and why like me, I doubt you'll like this book.

Oh and since some people delight in pointing out others grammatical and spelling mistakes; I have two young kids and have had very little sleep over the past few weeks and find forming a coherent sentance and/or thought taxing. So, if I've spelled something wrong or I have a grammatical mistake or have forgotten to capitalize a pronoun....I DON'T CARE!!!! I also ramble...which is quite obvious now. :) Happy Reading!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I tried to post a review on my account, but it wasn't over 48 hrs old, so I couldn't post this review. I'm using a family member's account with their permission to post this. -Elizabeth

Although Margaret Atwood tries to create a dystopian novel with a feminist focus, I feel this could not be achieved completely. The lack of information about the events that caused the Republic of Gilead to exist as presented caused me to become confused and lose focus on this. The readers learn that the government is very controlling, that the Constitution was repealed, and individual rights were diminished. However, the readers do not know how this came about.

Already in the dark about the previous events that lead the society to this current condition, the readers do not learn hardly anything about the characters' past lives. This ambiguity here causes more uncertainty, which leaves the readers questioning. I did not like the fact that I was left to either figure out or conjure up something about these characters and their previous lifestyles.

The Handmaid's Tale also, in my opinion, was extremely dull. I hardly ever felt engaged while reading this text. Perhaps the only time I was interested was when Offred encountered Moira at the club, and then Offred tells the readers about how Moira escaped, but was then in a sense, recaptured. Offred occasionally accounts events that are exciting and surprising, such as going to the "club" with the Commander, playing Scrabble with the Commander or visiting Nick at night. The stories about Offred's husband, Luke, and her daughter were interesting too. Generally, however, Offred's daily stories are ones of monotony. This sameness caused me to lose interest in the plot.

I also felt that this novel should have been told from multiple perspectives. Since Offred was the only narrator, I could not always rely on what she said. I feel the novel would have been easier to understand and more enjoyable if a man's perspective could have been shared as well. This might dilute the intended feminism, however such a limited perspective aggravated me because I feel like a story should be attacked from all angles. Perhaps a chapter told by the Commander or Nick would reveal their true feelings about the societal condition.

I became aggravated when Offred continued to refuse to tell the readers her true name. Why is she hiding her identity? If she is the heroine many critics claim her to be, why is she acting like this? She tells Nick her real name and even tells the readers that she tells Nick this, but she does not reveal her name to us. What is the big issue? Moira never took a "new name," and never let herself be inferior to the women and men around her.

A lot of critics seem to think that Offred is the heroine in this novel, but she does not do much to be considered a heroine. Moira acts as a heroine, as she does not let herself become subservient to the "authorities" around her and she is willing to take gigantic risks, such as her own death, to only possibly return to a similar life she once lived. Moira represents the typical heroine and actually provides us readers with excitement and hope. Offred, although she says she does not want to live in the current society does not seem to take action like Moira. What good is it if she doesn't do something about her situation? Her life will not improve and she will definitely never have such freedoms again.

While I was reading this novel, I never felt the urge to read "just one more page." It did not leave me hanging on the edge of my seat and it did not contain any suspense. Each page seemed to consist of monotony and this caused me to become bored quite quickly. If you like to read feminist novels about oppression and the coping mechanisms of a young woman experiencing this, The Handmaid's Tale (won't let me underline the title) is the novel for you. If you are like me and enjoy reading novels with twists and turns, I would not recommend for you to read this novel as it would only result in disappointment.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Told in first person, the story strayed quite often with inner thinking that appeared to ramble and was sometimes random. Flashbacks came without transitioning or warning. It was an interesting idea for a novel; the plot was just a little slow moving for my taste. Most importantly though, the ending just left me hanging, which compels me to take away one more star. =(
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood entails a dystopian atmosphere with an emphasis on feminism, but the vague information on how the Republic of Gilead came about, the past lives of the characters, and the disorganized and confusing thoughts of the main character made the novel not enjoyable for me. I am debriefed throughout the novel of how Offred was trained to live in the society, but it would have made more sense if readers were told about what caused the drastic change. I constantly read about Offred's past experiences in her previous lifestyle and family, but the details are vague and the sequence of events are always scattered. I tend to enjoy novels with distinct protagonists, antagonists, and a crisis that has to be solved, changed or endured; The Handmaids Tale does not provide an engaging and exciting story, but only talks about the sad lifestyle of a Handmaid.
Throughout the novel, readers are told about Offred's experiences in the Red Center, in the race to escape the clutches of the unknown army, and her transition into the new society called the Republic of Gilead. However, the experiences are told out of order and often confusing on when the events took place, while the actual cause for the change of regime remains unknown. As I read the novel, I felt disappointed that the explanation for the drastic lifestyle change never became known. Insight of the change into Gilead would also give some information about the role of the "Angels," "Eyes," and the "Aunts."
Offred spends much of her free time talking about her past lifestyle and her family that was forcefully torn apart. We learned about the start and growth of the relationship with her husband Luke, but we never know the name and description of her child. On pages 176- 178, Offred talks about what she did with her daughter when the change of power was occurring, but never discloses her name or anything about her. It was aggravating to hear so much about her past in vague instances and never any descriptive details on the people or places. What made me unhappy was the fact that Offred never revealed to the readers her real name. On page 270, Offred tells us that she told Nick her real name during one of their intimate encounters, but never actually says it in the text.
The Handmaids Tale portrays Offred as the protagonist and the regime in the Republic of Gilead as the antagonist, but no action-filled plot line exists involving them. The novel basically describes the lifestyle of Offred as a Handmaid and never gives any perspective from other characters with different jobs. I would enjoy this novel much more if it contained more than a narration of Offred's day-to-day experiences. The chapters either detail her daily routine or her thoughts and contemplations of her past and current day. The novel was not enjoyable for me because of the lack of suspense and the uninteresting narration of life in the Republic of Gilead.
The Handmaids Tale overall did not appeal to me as a reader because of the vague explanations of the change in Offreds lifestyle and her past experiences and family. The plot was not interesting as no apparently captivating action occurred and it was only told from Offred's point of view. This would be enjoyable for people who like feminists novels containing oppression and the ways of dealing with a tough and inhibiting society, and therefore does not attract my attention.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Definitely an interesting concept however the manner in which this story is told just really isn't my cup of tea. I made myself finish although I wanted to set the book aside a quarter of the way through it. I found it to be cumbersome, at time difficult to follow and ultimately quite boring.

I'm the first to admit that it looks like my opinion is in the minority. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
So much potential, yet so much missing to make you feel as if you had a complete story. I wished for more depth and understanding, but it never came.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This novel might have made a decent short story of about 50-60 pages. After you've read that far you've gotten all there is to be gleaned from it and it's a struggle to proceed further. Yes, we get it Margaret Atwood, you find religious extremism scary. And well you should, when we've seen what the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists have done to women and gays all over the world. Had your story been more mythical, as opposed to a poorly veiled attack on Christian fundamentalists (and I am not one so I have no particular dog in this fight) it could have been intriguing. Instead we have a dull and misguided polemic about how backward and misogynistic Christian evangelicals are.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2015
Format: Paperback
I decided to read this book as a challenge to a fellow member of my marching band. He had to read it for homework, and I wanted to see if I could read it faster then him (I did). I also wanted to see if there was a real reason he was not reading it (it was boring) or if he was just avoiding it (but it was interesting). It turns out that this is horribly boring and does not seem to have any plot. This is definitely a book to read at school or with a book club because it needs a lot of discussion. It does bring up some very interesting points about women’s rights, but it is also very sexual considering the book is told from the perspective of a Handmaid, who has to get pregnant by her Commander or her life would be in danger. This book is an old dystopian and the whole time the narrator is reminiscing about her past and how she got to here. This is very different then a lot of dystopian books. Most of the books are about “now” and the future. This book is about “now” and the past. This reminiscing made it confusing at times because of the way that it jumps back and forth. The epilogue explains a lot, but is also very abstract and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but would have been more useful at the beginning. I would not recommend this book unless you are at least a Junior in High School and have a book club to debate about women’s rights with.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Although I am usually a sucker for dystopian literature, and this book was well written, I didn't care for it. I thought Gilead wasn't believable enough. I appreciated that Atwood brought up themes of the subjugation of women, but it felt a little like Atwood was overly pushing the theme like, "pay attention, this is the theme right here. Can you tell? Here, this is what I want you to take away from this book."
I love different takes on the future and dystopian societies, but I didn't buy this one.
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