Friday, November 26, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale (Everyman's Library)Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Pages: 311
Published: 2006 (orig. 1985)
My Rating: 4 stars

Do you use LibraryThing?  It has this fun little "Will You Like It?" predictor that will judge how likely it is that you will enjoy a book.  Since I rate and review the books I read pretty consistently on LT, it tends to be fairly accurate.  Until it comes to something like The Handmaid's Tale, which leaves it completely befuddled.  My typical aversion to utopian/dystopian novels outweighed my love for well-written literary fiction, and the prediction came out as: "LibraryThing thinks you probably won't like The Handmaid’s Tale (prediction confidence: very high)"

LibraryThing was wrong--I really enjoyed this book. Despite the dystopia, despite the heavy environmental, political, religious, and sexual themes and messages, despite some skepticism at the validity of the dystopia that Atwood created, I thought that the statement made about what it is to be human was powerful.
This is the kind of touch they like: [...] A return to traditional values.  Waste not want not.  I am not being wasted.  Why do I want?
The writing style was so much fun to read.  Sparse to the point of simplicity in places, it was nevertheless deeply considered and effective: "dull...like the word thud".  Through this writing style we get to know the personality buried beneath the handmaid's masked exterior.  The story is told through bits and pieces, previous life remembered and pondered, detached observations of the new regime, fears and longings quelled for the sake of survival.
I want Luke here so badly.  I want to be held and told my name.  I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable.  I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.
I think what I really appreciated about the book was how thought provoking it was.  The fact that it tends toward simplicity allows you time enough to ponder the circumstances you are reading about.  Also amazing to me is the sheer volume of Margaret Atwood's published works!  Where does one go next after The Handmaid's Tale?

16 comments:

  1. Yes, this is one I'm very curious about. (That predictor thing sounds fun! I might have to join LT.)

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  2. I haven't inspected LT's predictor even though *I* predict it's pretty nifty. Heh. I just need to put a dent in my tbr pile before I let LT predict for me.

    As for The Handmaid's Tale...I read that, maybe, my junior year in college and really found the concept of the handmaid to be rather disturbing. I haven't read any Atwood since then (although, not surprisingly I do have a couple of her books in my tbr pile. LOL).

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  3. I have seen the predictor on LT, but haven't used it yet. I really like The Handmaid's Tale, and have read it a few times now. If you're looking for more Atwood, I'd try Oryx and Crake next.

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  4. Jillian--I love LT for organizing all my books. It makes it easy to see at a glance what I've read etc. And the predictor thing is fun!

    Christina--I'll often check the LT predictor after I've read a book and already know what I think of it. I like seeing how predictable I am. :)

    Jo--I'm definitely looking for more Atwood...it seems that Oryx and Crake is the one I hear about the most after The Handmaid's Tale, so maybe that's the one to put on my list. Thanks!

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  5. I'm so glad you liked it! Even better that you tried it after LibraryThing told you wouldn't like it. The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite Atwoods, and the other is Oryx and Crake. I would suggest reading that next.

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  6. That certainly is interesting that LT was so sure you would not like it, which goes to show that technology isn't always accurate (go figure). I'm really glad you enjoyed it as it was my first Atwood book as well & I'm wondering what my follow-up of hers will be. I'm leaning towards Oryx & Crake. Looking forward to hearing what you decide to try next :)

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  7. My two favorite Atwood books are Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin. I haven't read Oryx and Crake though so might have to try that.

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  8. Ha! Haven't tried the LT predictor - sounds like fun! I'm just like you - not a genre I usually enjoy but I really liked The Handmaid's Tale. It even survived having to study it for class!!

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  9. I loved this book too. I've read a few Atwood's though I've not enjoyed any as much as the Handmaid's Tale, I did really enjoy Lady Oracle.

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  10. Brenna--I put more stock in the opinions of fellow book bloggers than I do the LT predictor, although it is fun to see what it will say. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Teacher/Learner--a funny thing is that LT's page for The Handmaid's Tale recommended The Poisonwood Bible, The Color Purple, and The Bell Jar for similar tastes...all of which I loved. I wish I knew why it was so sure I wouldn't like Atwood!

    Alice--thank you for giving me some other Atwood options! I will look into those as well.

    booksploring--wow, retaining appeal after dissecting and analyzing it is impressive, (although completely understandable with a book like this). I like finding good books outside my typical selections, book bloggers have been great for that.

    Sam--thanks, I'll look into that one as well. I enjoyed how readable yet thought provoking it was. The combination surprised me...I'm guessing her other books are like that too?

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  11. cool! I LOVE this book. Out of curiosity, why did you give it four stars?

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  12. HA! I was wondering if anyone would ask about the 4 stars. :) I'm just pretty stingy with my 5 stars, I guess. A book really has to make my heart ache, make me want to reread it immediately for it to get 5 stars...they are the books that I'd reread every year and keep multiple copies of. The Handmaid's Tale just wasn't quite subtle enough or poetic enough to be one of those books.

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  13. Hi Melody,

    Back to you about the recommendation on Atwood...
    As has already been mentioned, Oryx and Crake coupled with the Year of the Flood seem like the logical path after The Handmaid's Tale; however, they are much more dystopian than The Handmaid's Tale (although the approach is as enjoyable).

    If you liked the "bits and pieces" technique, you'll probably love Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin. I think they might be my two favourite by Atwood, although I find it difficult to choose one. Alias Grace actually has a lot in common with The Handmaid's Tale with its female narrator. It also gives you newspaper articles from the time (it is based on the story of the Irish immigrant Grace Marks), songs, letters, etc, thus offering multiple perspectives.
    There are so many I'd like to talk about, but I must go and have a look at the rest of your blog :)
    Em

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  14. Em, thanks so much for coming over and giving me your opinion! I'm glad to know that there are some good options apart from the dystopian novels--I don't mind the dystopia, but it takes a little more mental preparation on my part. Alias Grace sounds good, maybe I'll go that direction next.

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  15. I have never been on librarything but I think I will now if I am missing this!

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  16. I don't think the LT predictor can figure me out. I have fooled it several times. That's because my reading is so eclectic.

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