This is a chilling story of a very different America, sometime in the 21st century. It is narrated by Offred, a ‘Handmaid’ – a woman who exists only for the purposes of procreation, and whose life beyond that purpose is worthless.
In the world in which the novel takes place, women are placed into categories, with no choice or education. Offred’s tale is that of many other Handmaid’s – a woman who belongs to a wealthy childless couple, and who is expected to provide them with a child. The details of exactly how America came to be like this are hazy, although the reader can surmise that it is probably through nuclear attack.
Offred recalls her life before this new society – the Gileadean Society – came into being. A life that many readers would recognise – happily married with a daughter and a good job (when she did not realise how happy she actually was); and how, shortly after the inception of the Gileadeans, she was herded to a centre with other prospective Handmaid’s to be ‘trained’ for her new role in life. She also describes her life with the family with whom she lives – the Commander (what he is a Commander of is never clarified) and his wife Serena Joy.
This was a fantastic book – extremely well written, and despite the initial absurdity of the premise, I soon found myself seeing how such events could unfold (indeed, many of the shocking events in the book have taken place in one form or another throughout history).
There is so much that is left unsaid in this book, and therefore a certain amount that a reader must assume. Margaret Atwood’s writing is spare, but she has a wonderful way of placing you in the moment. There is a sinister undertone to this story; a sense of apprehension about what might be about to come next.
Mainly this book made me feel relieved – relieved that this is not my life, and relieved that I could put the book down and leave the world which the narrator inhabited. This does not mean that I did not enjoy reading it. I would recommend this book very highly indeed.