Top positive review
A Stark, Important and Thought-Provoking Tale
October 24, 2018
Nolite to bastardes carborundorum
I’ve just added this title to my list of ‘extra special’ books, but somehow that label doesn’t fit right for The Handmaid’s Tale. Don’t get me wrong. It is without a doubt a fabulous work of fiction, superbly written, and with an unforgettable storyline. But ‘extra-special’ to me indicates something wonderful, pleasant. And nothing about this book can be described as pleasant. The words stark, horrific, prophetic, terrifying and too-close-for-comfort spring to mind.
I read this book before. I think it may have been fifteen years ago. The story, for the most part, stuck with me. But, I have to admit that it could almost have been two different books—they certainly were two very different reading experiences. All those years ago I read a fascinating piece of speculative, dystopian fiction. Even then it felt all too plausible, but not in an immediate way.
Re-reading the book now, given the political climate we now find ourselves living with, the story feels less speculative, almost less fictional. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination anymore to visualize a scenario as we encounter in this book, unfolding around us in real time.
“Ordinary is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.”
There is so much in this book to scare a person witless. You read this book and you can imagine how it might happen, and worse, how it might swallow you up too. There’s an insidious quality to this story, making the outrageous borderline logical, acceptable even. I found myself reading certain sections several times, knowing that what I’d read was wrong, but having a hard time pinpointing exactly why or where. I’m not sure whether I’m impressed or horrified that this book made me understand how people get drawn in to, and learn to live with, a situation that’s against their personal best interest.
“We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously.”
But, think about it. In a time when humanity is threatened because fertility is down, doesn’t it make sense to mobalize those women who are still able to give birth? Just as countries have for centuries mobilized men (and more recently women) in times of war?
“Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure.”
And that’s of course another worrying truth. While people may say they value their freedom, far too many seem to find comfort in being told what to do, think, and say. Humanity is supposed to stand out among mammals because of our capacity for independent thought, but all too often and all too many of us prefer to live without thinking too hard, happy to ‘follow orders’ without contemplating the consequences—for ourselves and for others.
There was so very much in this story that horrified me and made me angry. But there was only one section that truly broke my heart: when Offred apologies, near the end of the book. Apologizes for acting on the need to connect with another.
While I’m sad that the story doesn’t reveal what really happened to Offred, or even whether the end of her story is positive or negative, I do appreciate it was the perfect way to conclude the tale. An answer to the ‘what happened next’ question, regardless of what that answer would have been, would have robbed this story of much of its power. It is because the story ends the way it does that I found myself going over what I’d read and what I hoped/feared/imagined followed Offred’s tale.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is also among those stories that stay with me forever, because it is too unique, too shocking, and/or too thought-provoking to ever fade.