RED Shack...Warning! SPOILERS! Don't read if you don't want to know the end.

This is my personal reading blog. Complete with spoilers. Currently reading: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Favorite things about this book: the theme, the 'feeling' created by Atwood's prose and the subject. Characterization of the Commander, Serena, Moira, the various handmaids, I thought was done very well. I was transplanted into another world, one that I will be imagining a long time from now. It definitely stamps its theme/plot/ideas into your head. Also great memory choices for what Offred remembers from the past: I enjoyed details of her apartments, of clothes, of magazines, and how she misses the simple things like a fight over loading a dishwasher.

Most annoying things: I feel it ended too soon. I at least would have liked to know, for sure (though the entirely boring "Historical Notes" at the end gives a hint that she was, in fact, rescued and transported along the "Underground FemaleRoad") When I finished the last sentence, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. I had the classic, "Well, it is a literary novel" thought, which seems the only excuse...I suppose the nature of the book/theme supports this kind of ending, I guess, but...I still didn't like it. Also the "climax" which I assume is the point that Serena Joy confronts her about her going out, was too understated. I would have like to see the old woman get a little more upset. And c'mon: the "Historical Notes," to me, were a joke (maybe they are supposed to come off that way?) To me, it was a convenient way to end the story, provide somewhat of a more concrete ending for Offred. I was pretty much *forced* to read the stupid thing because I wanted to find out what the hell happened to her!

Some things about this book seemed "missing." I suppose I would have liked to know more details about the 'transition' from normal times to Gileadean times. More about what exact religious cult started the transformation, etc. More concrete details.

Atwood is so skilled at transitions through time. She took us from the present time to the time she was captured in one sentence. This was very well done. And I'm interested to read more of her books...incidentally I quickly read a few pages from One For the Money, Janet Evanovich's first in a series about her character, Stephanie Plum. I found myself annoyed by the text; but I think it was just because I was in the middle of this very serious, slow-moving book (with very little humor) and it was extremely different in tone, style, theme and pacing.

I can't help but feel that in reading this novel, I was reading it for a class. As in, this novel is going to teach you something. But in fact the narrator's voice makes the whole thing seem pretty intimate and casual. But, it's still a "heavy" novel, as opposed to the recent books and the upcoming books in my list.

All in all, I give it an "okay." I was into it, and interested in it, but at the same time couldn't help but look forward to my next novel (that I haven't decided on yet). The approach was good, but I felt Atwood's ideas may come across as a little pedantic and high-minded, like Ayn Rand. Just not quite my style. I'd rather enjoy a book than be kicked in the face with the "grand theme" and how every word is showing us the "theme," which to Atwood seems more important than the story itself. Knowwhadimean?

Another note: one of the intriguing things about this book is the narrator's problems with "reconstruction" - the reconstruction of the story in a valid way. Sometimes she even starts over, saying, "No, it didn't happen that way." Interesting that the main point of the Historical Notes at the end is the problem with establishing authenticity of the tale. Nothing is ever as it seems, but this book takes a step further in trying to clarify that nothing is ever told exactly as it happens. I guess the narrator's ability to see past herself and see that she is the narrator of a story is interesting. And I suppose this inability to establish authenticity, and the anonymous nature of all the names, is trying to hit on the idea of women not having a true identity in this future world.

I just can't help but picture Margaret's response to any objections about her work:
"But that's what I was going for!"
But see, it's okay for the literary writers (which I thought, at one point, I might I'm not so sure) and those who are already extremely well-known.


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