The Handmaid's Tale
For some reason, I had thought that this book was very recent, so it was a surprise to discover that it’s not. It’s maybe the first dystopian novel I really enjoy after Animal Farm, which is especially surprising because I have hated Fahrenheit 481, Brave New World, and 1984. (I wonder why I am attracted by those books at all, maybe I hope to find again what I found in Animal Farm.)
The introduction by Margaret Atwood in the edition I had in my hands is illuminating: she explains that she hasn’t tried to invent sophisticated projections, but just took elements which Nazi Germany had abused during the WW2 years, and only slightly distorted them to have them applied in a different epoch and geographic context. The result is disturbingly good, I must say.
The United States has become a theocracy, which, if you think about it, can be perfectly plausible, if some extremists go on to take power. The story is narrated by a Handmaid, one of the women that are forced to live in a household with the sole purpose of helping the Commander (of what? who knows) having a child since he hasn’t been able to have one with his legitimate wife. She can’t have friends, family, or freedom. She can’t read. She’s indoctrinated about her role in the new society in order to accept it and never protest. It’s a story of imprisonment.
The book is incredibly sad. Its mastery is in revealing so little, in fragmented pieces. You read about the Eyes, for instance, and never get an explanation of who they are and what they do, but you don’t need one. It’s someone to fear. There are dynamics of power and isolation that are so strong that the narrator is clearly accepting them without even trying to battle them or protest. And it just feels normal. And horrible.
I didn’t like the epilogue. I mean, I’d have liked the abrupt ending, but then there is something about the final pages that just don’t feel needed. Great book though: recommended!