The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood.
This was the book I studied for A Level English Lit and I really enjoyed it then because it reminded me of 1984 which I was a little obsessed with back then so I had been meaning to re read it anyway. As I mentioned with the Hunger Games and Never Let me Go I love a dystopian story and that is exactly what this is.
If you weren’t lucky enough to study it, here’s what goes down: The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future where something radioactive has happened which has prevented lots of women from being able to give birth so to continue the human race and to allow rich couples to have children, other younger, more fertile women are farmed and given to married couples to provide them with children. The girls (or Handmaid’s as they are known) are forced into sex with the man of the house, forbidden to read, stray out of their town, watch TV or hold down friendships or relationships with other people. Once they have provided their couple with a child they are usually shipped off to islands where they are put to work as labourers to help with agriculture.
The handmaid in this story has illegally fallen for a servant boy called Nick and has been recording her experiences on a series of cassette tapes which are being examined by a group of historians even further in the future.
When I first read this, I was struck by how much it haunted me, by how much of it was open to interpretation and how little is actually explained and how dark it was. It was probably the first properly adult book I had read in the sense that at 17/18 my life pretty much evolved around teen fiction, Harry Potter and as I said 1984, I had never read anything intended for adults before and the same creeping feeling came over me as I re read it as a 22 year old.
Its great, it really is but its also horrific, its terrifying, its repulsive, so many terrible things are squeezed into one story and the trauma is awful for the characters.
If you liked 1984 you will love this, its harrowing and it isn’t pleasant but by jove its good.