The Handmaiden’s Tale – A review

This distopian tale is an unsatisfying story. I feel as though I’ve been preached to, without a solution offered or any redemption possible.

Society’s downfall is brought about by the excesses of modern living in America: nuclear waste, consumerism, freedoms, literacy, contraceptive use by the white population, insecticides, abortion issues, biological hazards, and Playboy bunnies.
Those excesses were precursors to a time when it became necessary to cleanse society by shooting every government official, enslaving every woman, and crushing every man who did not follow the dictates of the murderous and inevitable elite. Very Hitler-like.

One must wade through and decipher the narrator’s snipped, conflicting, secretive, and jumbled memories to find that a brutal regime, disguised as a new religion, too easily took control of every aspect of daily life.

It seems odd that Canada and England were the safe havens, though maybe not, to which the very few rebels might flee. I believe the author’s political bent is showing.

This would be a good selection for a book-discussion group because it riles one up. It hits on so many hot buttons . . . Boat loads of Jews are thrown into the sea. Catholic priests and Baptists are hung on a public wall. Fertile women are assigned to elite men and their wives while older women or malcontents are sent to clean up nuclear waste sites. Deformed babies are “shredders.” No one speaks openly and everyone spies on everyone. Yet, the elite still have their luxuries, private clubs, and vices. Much to discuss.

The last chapter is from the perspective a scholar, 150 years in the future, looking back at the Handmaiden’s time in history. I suspect this chapter, my favorite, was added as an afterthought, to appease early readers or editors, to give a hint of hope. The story would have been better if that perspective was used at the beginning, making the scholar a kind of hero who digs up truth.

The Handmaiden’s Tale, written in 1987,  has been given new life as a series on Hulu. It will be difficult to watch, but I will search for it in the hope that the screen writers create a few heroes, brought more humanity to the characters, and maybe threw in a little hope and a more satisfactory end.


One thought on “The Handmaiden’s Tale – A review

  1. I didn’t like this book either but for some different reasons. I realize dystopian sci-fi is currently all the rage (think Hugh Howey’s “Wool” series) but to me, this is comparable to the glut of vampire books a few years ago that I found equally tiresome.
    First, let’s talk about the title; “The Handmaid’s Tale” is meant to be evocative of Chaucer, as in “The Tales of Canterbury.” Unfortunately, since I was an English major way back when, I sat through an entire semester-long class on “The Canterbury Tales” in middle English, to boot. I was taught that each tale, with the possible exception of the first one, “The Knyght’s Tale,” not only reflects the personality and character of the pilgrim telling it, but also weaves into an overarching whole. The entire series of stories is about the journey from this world to the next, with the pilgrimage from London to Canterbury as a metaphor. All well and good. So what overarching theme or resonance does “The Handmaid’s Tale” provide us with? That life under a theocratic totalitarian regime would be highly undesirable and, should you be historically unlucky enough to get caught up in one, you’d probably want to kill yourself? O.K., maybe not everyone learned the lessons of the former Soviet Union, but to suspend the Constitution? To unify church and state in the manner of Iran when they overthrew the Shah? Good Lord! Sweet heavens defend us!
    Now let’s talk about the science fiction aspect of it; if I were engaged in a protracted war and I needed babies and the usual method wasn’t working, no matter what my supposed ideology, I think I would start cloning them or perfecting test-tube babies or building robots or something along those lines. Why doesn’t the Republic of Gilead do so? Oh, that’s right–it’s against their religion. The Bible says to do something else. Well, as Americans we would never allow something as formidable as the Bible to stand in the way of technological advancement and superiority; I mean, what conflict was ever resolved by new technology? Forgive my sarcasm here, but my mind has officially boggled.
    To me, this book is equal in premise to the “Mad Max” movies and the only difference in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is that there hasn’t been a global thermonuclear war and the commodity of contention isn’t gasoline–it’s babies. I also take issue with the structure of the novel; to me, writing a supposed first-person account allows you to hide behind your character and whine, “Well, this is how an actual person who isn’t a professional writer would chronicle her experiences.” In the hands of a gifted novelist, a first-person account can be downright hilarious; witness Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” and “Pnin.” But here, I think it’s just an excuse to write sloppily.
    To give full disclosure, I’m an Arthur Clarke person, so anything that doesn’t measure up to that I’m looking askance at. To me, comparing any of Clarke’s books to this is akin to judging a fine wine to the likes of Coca-Cola; it’s just not getting there. The only reason I read it was because it was required for a sociology class here at FAU that the Ed department insists I take. Was there any part of the book that I liked? Yeah–I liked the Moira character; someone who’s seen too many Bond movies and way too much “Mission:Impossible” and decides to think outside the box. But aside from that, and I hate to end on such negative note, I think “My Little Pony” is more involving and nuanced.

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