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.
I have to confess that I was incredibly late to the party on this one and have just finished my first ever read of The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m still trying to work out how I felt about it.
It is seen as a cornerstone work of its genre, and I can see why as it describes a bleak vision of a future for women where fertility has decreased to an almost unsustainable level, making those women who are fertile a commodity to be used rather than being seen as people in their own right.
However for me, it didn’t give that sense of panic, of desire for our protagonist to free herself that other books with a similar dystopian take on the future have. Vox by Christina Dalcher for example – my heart was in my mouth the whole way through that one, and I could absolutely see how it could come about. With Handmaid’s Tale though I felt more detached, whether that’s because the setting felt less ‘real’ or for some other reason I’m not sure.
Even after I read the ‘Historical Note’ section at the end I felt more preached at than concerned that the future set out so bleakly in the pages of the book could actually occur.
The birth scene irritated me as well. Poorly depicted births in fiction whether in books or on TV are one of my pet peeves and while the actual birth wasn’t too badly done, the fact that our protagonist goes on to describe how she started to lactate as a result of watching the birth took away from the scene somewhat.
All in all I didn’t dislike Handmaids Tale and I’m glad that I read it, but it was a middle of the road book for me that I had expected more from.