View Single Post
Old 2nd Jul 2008, 11:07   #25
Senior Palimpsester

has the freedom of Palimp City
Noumenon's Avatar
Join Date: 13 Jul 2006
Location: Madrid, Spain
Posts: 3,793
Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

I suspect I'm well out of my depth here! Anyway, here's a mishmash of thoughts that I've mainly come up with since I started typing. I finished THT in the middle of last month and I mostly enjoyed it while reading - until the many-years-later coda, that is. Someone here gave us that classic quote, "if you're not sure then lose the last chapter" - truer words will not be said of this book. I felt it really devalued the whole piece.

Ignoring it for a moment, at the point at which the real novel stops we do not know what form of "text" we are experiencing: it could be a true inner monologue, the swirling of thoughts in Offred's mind; or it could be a post-escape memoir, in whatever medium was available; or, it could be a confession - as she (or Ofglen) puts it, you don't know what you'll say, or you'll say anything, under torture, and the idea of this all being some dreamy, Sodium-Pentothal murmur prior to her hanging about by the wall would be just as satisfying an implication of her living in this world as an escape. So I found the glib, "time heals all wounds", "maybe it's all bullshit", "does it even really matter" finale extremely disappointing.

On the way I was made quite angry by the various injustices - I don't mean this as a criticism, I find myself increasingly affected by such things in the books I read, I catch my pulse racing and suddenly realise I'm pissed off at what these characters are being put through. But I was also annoyed by what seemed like unnecessary missteps on Atwood's part - I too, like those before me, found aspects of "the revolution" as presented hard to accept, or rather, hard to believe. Overall I think it is an excellent idea for a novel, but sometimes less is more and leaving the origins of the situation completely clouded would have avoided the problem of coming up with a less than convincing pre-history.

I also found the hit-parade of lost friends and family towards the end a bit annoying - contrasted to the eternal, unanswered question of the husband's fate, far more impactful for remaining so. A photo of the beloved daughter, fully indoctrinated; the return of Moira, complete with the "and I saw your mom" revelation - but they were almost thrown in merely to answer the key questions of Offred's dreams or worries, providing neatly tied-off ends rather than making good sense in themselves.

I particularly didn't get Serena Joy's pseudo-blackmail bit, getting Offred to screw around "to get her a baby" - it seemed more likely to me that, dissatisfied with her lot in the new world order, she would relish the Commander's failure to impregnate, look forward to Offred's departure and the arrival of the next Handmaiden to help demonstrate his inadequacy. Yes, she feels the humiliation deeply, but suffering brings you closer to God...

Some of the woman-stuff, as I shall call it, I found very interesting, descriptions of female motivations as perceived by another female, or maybe just revealing far more about Offred than anyone else. Like about Cora's dreams for a baby:
"Maybe we have one, soon," she says, shyly. By we she means me. It's up to me to repay the team, justify my food and keep, like a queen ant with eggs. Rita may disapprove of me, but Cora does not. Instead she depends on me. She hopes, and I am the vehicle for her hope.
....Her hope is of the simplest kind. She wants a Birth Day, here, with guests and food and presents, she wants a little child to spoil in the kitchen, to iron clothes for, to slip cookies into when no-one's watching. I am to provide these joys for her. I would rather have the disapproval, I feel more worthy of it.
My favourite word in that quote being into, slip cookies into, turning a child into an object that you get something out of, like an electricity meter waiting for coins. Or, after reviling the Wives clucking over the soon-to-be-mother and criticising their own Handmaidens, her bitchiness regarding the "lucky" one:
And Janine, up in her room, what does she do? Sits with the taste of sugar still in her mouth, licking her lips. Stares out the window. Breathes in and out. Caresses her swollen breasts. Thinks of nothing.
Chattel and cattle. It's not just about women, actually - what she says about Nick regarding the erosion of female rights and privilages, how "he doesn't mind" what has happened, likes it even because it rewards his innate masculine possessiveness - veeeery eeeenteresting. I don't know why. Or maybe I'm just looking the other way for a moment.
Noumenon is offline   Reply With Quote