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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:02   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

All ready for the morrow....
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:25   #2
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

For once in my life I have got organised, been to Amazon marketplace and have my copy all ready
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:28   #3
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Oh god. So many on my TBR pile. So many library books. John Self recommends Animal's People...

Sod it. Might as well join in. Why not?!
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:29   #4
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

Animal's People is not short but it's a quick read, Ophelia. I think you'll like it.

I'm a bit behind but I hope to join in on The Handmaid's Tale discussion mid-month.
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:40   #5
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

I don't think I can finish it overnight!

I think I'll avoid this thread for a week. I'm a fast reader so I'll definitely be able to finish both books in that length of time, especially as I don't have a social life. Heh.

But then again, Wimbledon's on...

Well. We'll see. I'll definitely have The Handmaid's Tale finished by the end of July so I'll be able to stick my oar in with an opinion at some point!
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Old 30th Jun 2008, 19:51   #6
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

I thought I'd copy and paste my post on THT straight from my blog.

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS. I'll try and blank them, but in case I miss any...

I first read this book when I was 16, and at high school. I was studying it for my CSYS English dissertation on alternative worlds. I loved it from the word go, and have read it countless times since.


The novel is set in a time chronologically contemporaneous with now (or with 1985, when it was published, but it could equally be 200 but in an alternative world where America has been overthrown by a theocracy and it now The Republic of Gilead, and lives are now to be lived according to strict rules. People are divided and alloted social status on the basis of gender, colour, caste, and fertility. Men are the important ones - all men are now in the military with the top rank being Commander of the Faith. They are given Wives who have to dress in blue, like the Virgin Mary. If they have Daughters, the Daughters must dress in white until marriage. These men, too, are given a Handmaid, who dress in red with a white head-dress that obscures their periphiral vision: they can only see directly ahead, or down. Handmaids tend to be women who have broken "gender laws". They have complained, they have protested, but they have to be fertile. They are there to bear more children for the Husband. They have no identity of their own, they take the names of their masters. Our narrator, our Handmaid, is Offred. Of-Fred.


For those women who break more serious gender laws, are lesbians, are sterile, are widows, or were nuns are officially Unwomen. They are not useful to the regime - they can't bear children. They are sent out into the Colonies - the wilderness - to die a slow death from radiation sickness. Homosexual men - gender traitors - are also sent out there to die with them. All of them, men and women, have to wear grey dresses.


There are Jezebels. They are confined to secret clubs for the pleasure of the Husbands and their guests - they dress in provocative outfits from the Time Before. Cheerleaders outfits, school uniforms, and so on. They have make up. There is The Wall, where dissidents uncovered by the Eyes (the secret police force) are hung as a deterrent to other possible rule-breakers.
Offred had a husband and a young daughter before the regime change happened. The three of them tried to flee to Canada but they were caught. Our narrator - whose real name we never learn, though it's suggested it might be June - is sent to be a Handmaid, their daughter is adopted by a Commander of the Faith and his Wife, and we never learn the fate of her husband, Luke. She watches everyday to see if he is hung on the Wall, but he isn't there.


Offred isn't getting pregnant and if she doesn't soon then there is a fear that she will be deemed sterile and an Unwoman. Men, you see, cannot be sterile. Only women. She is advised to secretly take another lover, Nick, to increase her chances of conceiving. But... is Nick an Eye? What about Ofglen, her neighbour Handmaid, with whom she has been illegally communicating?


It is too easy to say that this is a feminist novel, though it is. Not only does it make stark warnings about the position of women in society, but it also attacks fundamentalist religion, and the way that women are literally represented in the Bible and other religious texts, which is the reason that it is one of the Top 100 most complained about books in terms of studying it in school in America. It is one of my most favouritest books in the whole world though, and opened the floodgates of my Atwood-Love. In The Handmaid's Tale she manages to show the full gamult of womanhood by showing everything women were and could be before the theocracy intervened. It showed the potential of power of women, and how they needed to be repressed for the ultra-religious society to work. Women, for the rulers, were always the spanner in the works. It's a call to metaphorical arms to women to reach their potential, and to make their own lives on their own terms. Much joyous fist-waving ensues from me.


I don't care if Margaret Atwood signs books with a fancy machine, I think she's amazing.
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Old 1st Jul 2008, 3:44   #7
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

And she's an amazing satirist. Handmaid's Tale is chock full, from the play on words of the title to almost every last page. It's almost too full of themes to pull from the toy box and play with. I read it for the first time in 2005 but enjoyed it more this time. Kirsty, I agree that the novel is about a woman making a life on her own terms, but not in an external way or a modern manner, more a solitary sojourn.

I was also surprised at my mixed reaction to the Handmaid this time. I initially saw her as loving and representing some of the best qualities in people. But this time I also saw her passivity and, ultimately, her dependence upon someone else to get her out of her spot. Whereas three years ago I was simply relieved to think she might have outlasted the regime, now I wonder a bit at her means of doing so. 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.
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Old 1st Jul 2008, 7:40   #8
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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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.
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Old 1st Jul 2008, 10:09   #9
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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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.
Interesting. I think I possibly agree with you, as much as I adore the book otherwise. I do tend to forget about the coda. I'm not entirely sure what purpose it serves.

However, for me, love is blind and I can overlook that fault and still adore it.
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Old 1st Jul 2008, 10:20   #10
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Default Re: Book 54: THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

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Maybe this is the point, that declining birthrate and the insanity of fundamentalism places a premium on some lives at the expense of others.
I think this is why I feel it is not so much a feminist piece. The exigencies that Atwood has put upon her alt.history corner of the States (and the wider world by implication) makes it far more a novel about society, for me, than anything else. When the extremity of nuclear/chemical/biological armageddon hits humanity, and actual survival at all is at stake because of lessening procreation, how does the society empower itself to carry on as a society? Does it scatter its remnants to the winds, to reproduce where and when and if they can? Or does it collectivise? Is the immanent decease of the human race the point at which the people begin to serve society, rather than the other way around? None of the consequences can be pleasant if that is the way the decision swings: the means by which it is carried out, turn out to be dogmatic religious patriarchy, and Atwood can examine the details of that as a by-product if you like, but the greater picture is of people in relation to one another and how that is sustained/enforced/repressed as the means of bringing about a supposed greater good.

I'm hoping that makes sense.
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