Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This review is a part of the Dystopia 2012 Challenge hosted at The Bookish Ardour.

"A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath, and in the center of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier, once. They've removed anything you could tie a rope to. "

About the book: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, which was first published in 1985.

Summary: (from Goodreads) Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining fertility, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. 
But all of that is gone now...

My Thoughts: This may seem like a very halfhearted review and I do not blame you for thinking that. I don't usually tend to write reviews about books I don't like, unless they're review copies, in which case I have to. It's because I am mostly unable to think of anything to write. But since I read this book as part of a challenge, I decided to go ahead and write the review.

I have seen this book compared to Orwell's 1984 countless times. I won't try to tell you how wrong those comparisons were; I merely want to show how wonderful I expected this book to be. What I got, instead, was very clumsy writing; not to mention very little character development and an average plot.

The book starts out painfully slow. The writing is childlike, with short pretentious sentences, too many metaphors, an inconsistent narrative and for some reason, no quotation marks. The authors tries too hard to sound beautiful, scary, touching. Throughout the book, the reader is kept in the dark about most important things, and instead presented with a whole lot of irrelevant details. Till the very end you don't get a clear explanation of why the world is this way, what drove the characters and we never find out what happened of half the characters.

So much of the plot is withheld for so long, and I can think of no other reason why the author would do this than to attempt to keep the audience intrigued. I wasn't intrigued, just confused, slightly irritated and sort of amused. The only reason I kept reading the book was because I had to find out if the mystery ever ends.
I wish the book had a more intricate plot, or better developed characters. The book would make a much stronger statement, if only all the underlying themes such as gender, sex, caste, class and patriarchy were, in fact, underlying. I like books that have a point to make, but not if the message starts to hinder the plot and character development. I appreciated the basic premise of the book, the world that the author has tried to create and the impact she's tried to make; but that basic idea was the only thing I am completely certain I liked.

If someone asks me how I find this book, I won't say I hate it, because I don't; I would just call it okay.


Buried In Print said...

Well, this is one of my favourite novels, so obviously I responded to it completely differently than you did. The author has made some deliberate choices about the way she uses language and the way that she very slowly reveals the background to Offred's experience. It is a very particular way of telling this story, and maybe it's just not to your taste. Of course we all look for different things in books.

I hope you enjoy your next read for the challenge much more!

Priya said...

I don't know, why I didn't like the book as much. I guess I was just looking for something completely different and the book didn't match up to my expectations. Of course, I do plan on reading it once thing, this time knowing what I will get, so thanks for your perspective; maybe I will feel differently once I re-read it.
Glad you stopped by :)

Hafsah said...

Wow, I've never read a bad review about The Handmaid's Tale before! I think it's one of the most beautifully haunting books I've ever read.

It's true that Atwood leaves the reader guessing about a lot of things, but I think that the world she has created and what it tells us about our current world is much more important than what happens to the characters.

Can I just ask - did you read the Historical notes at the end of the book? I only ask this because the first time I read this book, I completely ignored them and it wasn't until I read it for the second time that I realised that the Historical Notes are part of the novel and actually tie up a few loose ends and give some explanations.

I definitely think you should re-read it - it's gets better each time you read, IMO :)

Priya said...

I did read the notes, but somehow the book just didn't feel as great to me. I've changed my opinion of Atwood though, after reading Oryx and Crake now, I just loved the book. If guess if I read The Handmaid's Tale sometime later, I might just like it! Thanks for stopping by :)

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