Monday, August 23, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Published 1985 by McClelland and Stewart
Source: I bought it--I even have the receipt still in the book to prove it

I've been meaning to read this book for years; it was even on my plan to read it this year. But it took Trish (of Hey Lady, Whatcha Reading) hosting a readalong at Classic Read Book Club to get me to actually pick it up.

Several months ago, I happened to come across the movie, which stars Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. Didn't like it a bit. I couldn't believe you could take a book that is supposed to be so great, add in that many great actors and come out with such a dull movie. Which made me really wonder about the book. I immediately hoped that the number one would not come up as my next read for the Random Reading Challenge. Four sections into the book and I'm ready to throw all of the blame on the script. Or the director. Anything other than the source material.

Because even though I've now read fifty pages of the book and have really only been given glimpses of what is really happening, I'm really enjoying Atwood's writing.
"A bed. Single, mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There's a lot that doesn't bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open n yourself, given a cutting edge."
The world as we know it has changed dramatically and our narrator, who is, at this point nameless, finds herself in the position of being a Handmaid. We don't really know yet what exactly that means except to know that she lives in the house with a Commander, the Commander's Wife, some Guardians and a couple of Martha's (essentially house staff). Handmaids have their own room in the homes but nothing about them is personal, the Martha's don't seem to like the Handmaid and the Commander's Wife is openly hostile. Our narrator is sent out on daily walks but must always be with another Handmaid, is not allowed to show her face, and can't talk to anyone other than the Marthas and other Handmaids. She's having recollections of a child, clearly her own, and a man but we don't yet know what happened to them. Or what has caused the world to change so dramatically.

And there is the Wall. It's hundreds of years old but it's gates now have sentries, there is barbed wire at its base, broken glass on it's top and floodlights mounted on metal posts.

"No one goes through those gates willingly. The precautions are for those trying to get out, though to make it even as far as the Wall, from the inside, past the electronic alarm system, would be next to impossible. Beside the main gateway there are six more bodies hanging by the necks, their hands tied in front of them, their heads in white bags tipped sideways onto their shoulders. There must have been a Men's Salvaging early this morning."
Doctors, lawyers and scientists seem to be the primary target of the Men's Salvaging but why? And why does the Handmaid wear nothing but red? So many questions at this point--I can't wait to read on for the answers. I know, I know--I saw the movie. But, honestly, I disliked it so much, I've all but put it out of my head. I'll let Atwood lead on.


  1. I read this so many years ago that I don't remember the fine details but I loved it! This and Cat's Eye are still the only two Atwood books I've read. I know I will love her others because her writing is extraordinary.

    I haven't seen the movie and probably won't. What a fun readalong.

    I see you are also reading The Forgotten Garden. Ahh...I love her so.

  2. This is one of my all-time favorite books. I started Oryx and Crake last week and it's proving to be just as good as The Handmaid's Tale.

  3. I'm doing the read-along as well, and this book is freakish, 'ey? And I can't imagine that you can have all those amazing actors and have a dull movie either! Argh!

  4. The movie DID suck. I read it first then sought out the movie. I wish I hadn't!

  5. I loved this book and would have loved to read it yet again but just no time right now. This book scared me - lol - because I can see societies going this way sometime in the future.

    Oh, and yes the movie is crap. I tried watching it and didn't even get through a quarter of it. It doesn't in any way do the book justice.

  6. My daughter chose this book from a list of 4 to read as her outside novel for first quarter. We just picked up a copy at Half Price Books this morning. I wonder if I can find the time to read this along with her and the Classic Read Book Club? :)

  7. Ooh, Molly, I think you should definitely do it!!

  8. Molly should do it - she will fly right through the pages. This book is tremendous. At least I think so. I had no idea dystopian literature could be so awesome. This book scared the crap out of me because it is set where I live in the real world and honestly, I could see the events leading to the changes in her world actually happening in this clueless society of ours. I have not come across many men who have read this who enjoyed it or were impacted by it. Clearly that tells me that Atwood was successful in finding the chord to strike - and twist - in the minds of women. I have yet to read any of her other books but I look forward to them.