Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Both Recommend & Don't Recommend The Handmaid's Tale

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
The above quote from Margaret Atwood has been coming up on my Tumblr blog a lot lately, especially in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shooting. So I decided to finally read her book The Handmaid's Tale which has been on my TBR list for years. It was just one of those books that I always wanted to read, but just never got around to read, so I finally forced myself to read it. I have to say that I was not that impressed with the composition, yet at the same time I think it's a really important book to read.

Find out why I'm both recommending this book, but also not recommending it after the jump.

Atwood's novel came out in 1986 so it may be a bit dated, but it is eerie how some of the things she wrote about back then still relates to our lives today. As a woman reading this book, it is terrifying, because there is the real possibility of this happening; if it isn't already happening in the other corners of the world.

Atwood gives us the story of Offred whom lives in a society where women are oppressed so much that they are no longer allowed to read or have careers, and most are pushed back into "traditional gender roles". Offred is a handmaid who works for the Commander and his wife, going shopping for them daily, but her biggest role is laying on her back for the Commander once a month with the hopes to get pregnant. Birth rates are down so in order to resolve the problem there are a group of women whom are selected to basically be breeders for those in power. It's really fucked up, but a terrifying notion that could happen.

There is a particularly heart-wrenching scene in the book when the handmaids are in the Red Center and Janine confesses that she was gang-raped at 14 and had an abortion. If that's not terrifying enough to hear, you'll feel an ache in your heart when the other women starting yelling at her that it's her fault. Victim blaming in 1986, and it's something that is still happening today!

It's for these reasons that I highly suggest reading the book. It's a serious and important feminist story that everyone should read.

Here come the reasons why I wouldn't recommend the book.

While the message and warning in the story is extremely important and I think everyone should hear it, Atwood's writing style bothered the crap out of me. The story is not told chronologically, but rather in pieces of the three sections of her life--before Gilead, at The Red Center, and The Present Time. This isn't the part that bothered me, because if you read the "Historical Notes" it makes sense why it's written this way. The thing that bothered me was the choice to use quotations for dialogue and to also not use them. Why? Just why?

At first I thought Atwood had a point to not use quotes in the past, but once you start to get the narrative from all three sections there is no clear cut reason why she uses quotations sometimes and why she chose to omit them at others. I wouldn't have had a problem as much with it had she chose one method over the other. To me it just seemed like sloppy writing.

The other thing that bothered me about the novel is the ending. Other than the "historical notes" where we get a better idea of how Gilead came to be, we never find out what happens to Offred. The novel ends with her getting taken away by The Eyes, who may or may not be impostors, but we never find out the truth. We also never find out what her real name is, or if her husband Luke is still alive, or if she survives. The unsatisfying ending just left a sour taste in my mouth and it really annoyed me.

Have you read the book? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.

Happy Reads Everyone!