Book review of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and how it made me look at the world around me without my blinders on.
I should have read this book years ago… twenty to be exact. In my defense, I was raising a couple babies at that time and didn’t read much of anything that had actual words. But still, I wish I’d found this book before now.
As much as I’m one to judge books by their covers, I’m also one to come to things late. If a book, TV show, or movie is ‘all the rage’ I’m just not interested. I think that’s what happened with The Handmaid’s Tale. Once the buzz started up and the show was announced, I distanced myself from it.
And shame on me.
I think the fact that this book was written twenty years ago makes it more sad, for me. Twenty years have passed and it’s still relevant. It’s still the same cry into the night against the way women are treated.
I normally don’t like spoilers. But since you, like me, had twenty years to catch up… I think I’m safe. So, what you’re about to read is my opinion about things in the book that may or may not spoil the ending for you.
No, it will. Because the ending is my favorite part!
A quick recap of the premise: some time in our past (probably the future when it was written but… twenty years and all) all of women’s rights were stripped away in North America. The scariest part is that it was gradual, and happened with rights we gladly gave up piece by piece for some sense of security. Sound familiar?
By the time we meet Offred, a name not her own but given to her to signify that she’s the property of a Commander named Fred, we find that she’s lost everything in such a short time. Her husband, Luke, who we never really know if he’s alive or dead – my money’s on dead – and her precious daughter.
I found it fascinating that Ms. Atwood never told us Offred’s real name, or that of her daughter. At times I thought these were secrets only for Offred to keep, or to protect her daughter, or because she began to feel that she was nothing more than the Commander’s property. She assimilated quickly.
Offred is used as a new type of surrogate for the Commander and his wife. But, instead of test tubes and sterile hospital rooms, she – and all the other Ofs – is raped once a month in the hopes of fertilization. But, Offred herself doesn’t believe it’s actual rape, since it’s what she signed up for. It’s transactional, like prostitution.
The ending! As I said, I love the ending. It’s a two parter, double whammy that got me right in the feels.
Part one, the van pulls up to take her away. She doesn’t know if she’s caught, or being saved. Nick, her secret lover and true father of the new baby inside her, is a Guardian. The van takes women away to be banished or worse, after some wrongdoing. But, at the last moment, right before she’s about to take her own life and that of her unborn child to keep the government from getting her… he whispers in her ear. “Do you trust me?”
She gets in the van and we never know for sure if she’s rescued or captured.
Part two, I’m pretty sure she was rescued… for a while at least. In the epilogue we fast forward a couple hundred years and the tapes are found by a historical research group. They try to find out who she is, who Fred is, and whatever happened. But, as is the nature of underground dealings, there’s not much of a paper trail.
I think she was at least rescued and brought to the Underground Frailroad, where she made the tapes. What happened after that, we will never know. She could have gotten across to Canada, or over to Europe. Or she could have been swept up in a raid and disposed of.
Like I said, loved the ambiguous ending!
This book made me think, so much. Yeah, I play around and call myself Ofmatt. My husband doesn’t get the joke, but I still think I’m hilarious. But, in those quiet moments, a line or image that the book conjured in my imagination will pop back up and I’ll start to wonder.
If our own world started to inch toward Offred’s fate, would we recognize the trajectory before it was too late? Have we already crossed that Rubicon?