Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now...everything has changed.

This is a difficult book to forget.  Much like Orwell's 1984, the only other classic dystopian literature I've read, I know I'll be thinking about The Handmaid's Tale for a long time.  I bought it on a whim for my Nook because the e-book was on sale at Barnes and Noble.  I saw that it was dystopia and thought, why not?  Now I'm really glad I read it because this is not a book to miss out on.

The Handmaid's Tale is not an easy read and it is not escapist fiction, like I usually read.  It is a book that makes you think, and makes you appreciate everything that you have.  And by everything, I mean I started appreciating driving, going to work, putting on makeup, taking a shower, having my own money, making my own choices, picking out my own clothes, my cat, everything about my life. 

The premise of handmaids is based on Old Testament practices of a husband sleeping with his wife's maid to have children when the wife is infertile.  Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah?  Remember how God promised Sarah a child but she didn't believe she could conceive in her old age and sent her maid in her place to conceive a child with Abraham?   That is where the handmaids in Atwood's world come in.  In this world, infertility and birth defects are rampant, and high-ranking men qualify for handmaids in order to bear them children.  The handmaids have three chances  (a chance being living with a family and sleeping with the husband on specified days for an unspecified length of time before moving on to the next family) to get pregnant before they are sent off to "the colonies." The colonies are described as dangerous places where women who are not useful in the new society are forced to clean up toxic waste sites with no protection.  Being sent to the colonies is a death sentence and is used as a motivating factor for women in the book.

Offred is one of the first generation of handmaids.  She remembers vividly her days as an independent woman.  The reader is introduced to Offred in her life at the commander's house.  We don't learn the back story of Offred's previous life until about halfway through the book.  Her history, as well as the turnabout of the 'normal' US to The Republic of Gilead, is given to us in bits and pieces, as Offred recollects past events.  I wanted to be in on the history right away, but had to wait to find out how the new society came about.  It's kind of scary to read this in 2010 (the book was written in 1985) and draw parallels to our own society.  I think that is what affected me the most---thinking that this sort of thing could really happen.

I'm tempted to tell you what the handmaid's names mean---they are not the womens' real names---but I think you need to figure that part out for yourself.  Figuring out what Offred means was one of my favorite parts of this book.  The Handmaid's Tale was at times, horrifying, especially the birthing scene and the Ceremony.  It's kind of like looking at a train wreck: you're disgusted but can't look away.  I found myself reading compulsively to find out what happens to Offred.  Does she succeed in conceiving on her third and final chance, with the Commander?  What became of her husband and child, who were both taken away from her?  What about her best friend?  I should warn you that not all of these questions are answered at the end of the book.  However, I was happy with the ending.

I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale to just about anyone.  People who are easily offended will probably not like it, but I think that this is one of those books everyone needs to read.

Just One Gripe: 
The Handmaid's Tale is written in stream-of-consciousness writing with Offred  as our narrator.  The writing felt choppy and kind of jumped around at times: a couple of times I found myself hitting the 'back' button on my Nook to make sure I didn't skip any pages. 

The Best Thing About This Book: 
Atwood's creativity, foresight, and world-building.
Appropriate for a younger audience: 

Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Setting/Imagery: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Ending: 4/5
Total Score:  24/25


  1. pardon me i didnt read this review..except the first 2 paragraphs. I dont want to be influenced by your review since ill be reading it sooon buuuut i promise u ill read it after i write my own. anyways thanks for sharing and i BET it DOES deserve a 5 stars rating!
    have a nice day!
    Bonafide Blogger

  2. I'm not a fan of dystopian stories, but I didn't know this was dystopian when I bought it. I loved this book, and you're right, it stays with you. This one's on my keeper shelf.

  3. I absolutely never knew what this books was about, and I'm ashamed to say I judged it purely based on the title. I'll definitely check it out now because I have quite the penchant for dystopian books. Great review! :)

  4. I'm so excited ! this is my #2 to be read book !
    which means, I'll probably read it within a week.
    Can't wait ! great review ! ^_^

  5. I love a good thought-provoking read from time to time.

    Woman, do you know how incredibly dangerous you are to my TBR list? *adds book to TBR list*

  6. This isn't my kind of read but you make it sound so interesting, deffo going to look it up, hope you girls are doing good *hugs*

  7. I am not going to lie... This book was not for me, I stopped reading it just before "it got good" per Kelli BUT I was a freshman in college and not reading for pleasure...lYou know me Kelli, I need a good love triangle or something... lol. But I will say my mom loved the book and I know I am totally in the minority and I am okay with that :)

  8. I had to read this book as a sophomore is high school, I liked it then and I still like it now. It rubs some people the wrong way, but I always liked dystopian novels :)

  9. I actually studied this book in college in two seperate classes, Contemporary Women's Writing and a module I did based solely on the works of Atwood. I absolutely loved this book and it was actually one of the first dystopian books I ever read. I really love to read a book that makes you think and this is definitely one of those books. Great review :)


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