View Single Post
Old 1st Jul 2008, 8:40   #8
is beyond help
Colyngbourne's Avatar
Join Date: 30 Apr 2003
Location: England
Posts: 10,739
Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Originally Posted by Beth View Post
Did she use her sex to manipulate Nick? Is Atwood saying that in some respects survival (ie being chosen to live and thus continue a pregnancy - I think the Handmaid was pregnant -) happens when a big strong, ooh er! car waxin' hand intervenes? And that the logical candidate for continuity here is a woman of childbearing age? What about Cora, the cook? If so, that's almost too brutal to take, much worse than Salvaging or the Colonies. Maybe this is the point, that declining birthrate and the insanity of fundamentalism places a premium on some lives at the expense of others. The very last section could also be read as a tribute to faith in men, something a real feminist holds. I'm proud that the Handmaid trusts Nick; I'm a bit confused that there is no other avenue. Bleaker and bleaker the more I think onit.
I had so many reactions to the themes in the book, that I found it a fairly frustrating experience reading it at all a second time (I read it first about four years ago, I think). I felt cross with the feminism, the anti-feminism, the anti-men, the entire *lack* of feeling there was an entire logic as to how things degraded to this situation.

Was she using Nick? Cetainly, but that wasn't the sole option available to her, and she did love him insofar as she was able with the restrictions. I would rather think that the only way of surviving is through "relationship": it doesn't matter if that is with Ofglen, whispering thoughts of freedom and inner knowledge, or playing Scrabble with the Commander, or silently communicating with Nick as he washes the car. When there's the suggestion that it's impeded or tainted by a "men using women/women using men" issue, I find I get thoroughly irritated with the book. I think a response to the book is defnitely framed by your own response to the male/female divide.

Unless I convince myself that Nick did manage to get Offred out of danger, I find very poor portraits of men in this book. Now in the context of the story as it is, maybe that's not surprising, but their actions and meanings are filtered through the perception of Offred, and her perception is off. I suppose this is why many reveiwers compare this book with 1984 (besides the obvious dystopian totalitarian thing) but I'm not sure either that it hits the gut in the same way. Offred might have a few years of indoctrination in the new ways of things, but the evidence of the book - her thoughts - itself, her mind is still free and able to remember and express alternative ways of thinking, even if they are far in the past; whereas in 1984, the true horror is that a person's mind can be turned against them, that the self can be led and driven to betray and obliterate itself: without our own inner consciousness, we are the puppets of the state. And I don't feel Offred ever reaches this situation.

I gave it because it is beautifully written and plotted and the reader gets drawn in in a very fine way - clearly a classic book - but I just don't think it would happen like that. I was dissatisfied with the coda this time round too. As a well-published friend once said to me, if you're unconvinced about the end of your book, chop the last chapter off, and end it there, and see what it feels like. On reflection, Atwood should have done exactly that.
Currently reading: The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins | My reading list | My film list
Colyngbourne is offline   Reply With Quote