If you’re hip with the interwebs and like to consider yourself in touch with the book community, you’ve probably heard of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s one of those novels that everyone says you should read, and it’s the next 1984, and it’s brilliant, and you just kept putting it off until you finally picked it up at the library two weeks ago. Or is that just me?
I’ve got a lot of feelings (shocker) so let’s get this party started.
A brief summery. A woman living in the time of a post apocalypse (of sorts) where the population is in danger of going extinct. Because of that women who are able to have children are very important. All people are identified by class and have extremely ridged behavioral expectations. If you don’t follow those expectations, for instance the fertile women looking into men’s eyes, it could lead to torture and/or death. Our main character doesn’t like following expectations. But she isn’t the only one. There’s actually an underground network of trouble makers. *SPOILER ALERT* This whole story was written by our main character after she escapes from her master (of sorts) and we aren’t sure of her eventual fate.
As for the technicalities, I’m going to be upfront with you. I couldn’t stand the way this was written. It helps to know that this is supposed to be in quasi letter/recorded story form but wow I hated it. I understand that it was important aesthetically to convey our narrator’s mind set but it drove me up the wall. I’ll give you an example; here’s the first sentence from chapter three:
“I go out by the back door, into the garden, which is large and tidy: a lawn in the middle, a willow, weeping catkins; around the edges, the flower borders, in which the daffodils are now fading and the tulips are opening their cups, spilling out color.”
In case you fell asleep, there are 10 pieces of punctuation in that one sentence. Not all of the sentences are that bad but enough were that I couldn’t get past it. Additionally, our narrator had lots of flash backs to life pre-crazyness which would be ok except they were never clearly defined as such. You sort of stumbled across the realization that it’s a flashback two or three sentences into it. And then they were almost always concluded without an actual ending. It would just be come too painful for the narrator to finish. Or, sometimes she would go back and correct herself about what really happened. Which could be this story telling taking on a realistic tone or it could be bad writing that doesn’t know how to wrap things up. #justsaying
As for how I felt about the story itself, I would sum it up with the word annoyed. As if the writing style wasn’t a chore to get through, I had issues with the plot. I mentioned that it was post apocalypse but I only sort of meant it. We aren’t told about how society ended up the way it did until page 174. Just for context’s sake, that’s out of 300 pages- so more then half way through the novel. And when they do address it we get two and a half sentences and that’s it.
From there it only gets worse as the entire plot seems to be riddled with unanswered questions. I can handle a fair amount of that in a story, it’s inevitable, but this was just too many. For me, the fact that it’s an acceptable action because it’s a retelling seems more like a cop out.
So read it, because you should form your own opinions. But maybe at a time when it’s the only book you have and you’re stuck on an island with absolutely nothing else to do.