Re-reading this book 2 years later, in preparation for starting “The Testaments”, I still agree with the rating of 4 out of 5 stars I gave back then!
Brilliantly written, with a style that goes down as smoothly as butter, “The Handmaid’s Tale” was an absolute delight to read. It’s so refreshing to finally have gone through something with some much attention put to the way it is elaborated, that you feel yourself visually transported into the story throughout the whole reading time. The chapters, as well as the bigger divisions of the book, were ideal in length, helping you to advance through it at an even pace. The detailed descriptions made the scenes almost tangible, each chosen word felt carefully picked out & masterfully crafted into a captivating story-line.
Reading the book the 2nd time around, I’ve picked up some examples on the way:
“(…) At that time men and women tried each other on, casually, like suits, rejecting whatever did not fit.” (p. 57)
“The Commander likes it when I distinguish myself, show precocity, like an attentive pet, prick-eared and eager to perform. His approbation laps me like a warm bath.” (p. 189)
“On these occasions I read quickly, voraciously, almost skimming, trying to get as much into my head as possible before the next long starvation. If it were eating it would be the gluttony of the famished, if it were sex it would be a swift furtive stand-up in an alley somewhere. (p. 190)”
“I’m sorry there is so much pain in this story. I’m sorry it’s in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force.” (p. 275)
Spiced with a taste of “1984” or “The Brave New World” but told in a way that might represent a possible reality looming around the corner, if not already almost taking place in some parts of the world.
Here a link to quite a thought provoking article of what is going on in Saudi Arabia in the year of 2017, if the book itself wasn’t enough for you (discovered thanks to my fellow goodreader Alexandra that I follow here back when I was writing the review the 1st time around). The fact that this story has been published in the 1980s & still reads as brilliantly, without of a feeling of having aged, almost 40 years later, definitely underlines the talent of the author.
Browsing through reviews on goodreads about the book, a point that was frequently mentioned, was the style of writing & the non-existence of any quotation marks. Personally it didn’t bother me at all & the reading flow just came naturally from the very beginning on. (*The 2nd time around I actually paid attention & noticed how the presence or the absence of quotation marks signified if the main character was telling about her older memories or whether the story was happening in her closer reality. Face palming myself right now for not having realised it back then*)
This being the 3rd book that I have read by Atwood, I’ve got to say that her writing is masterful. The way she notices the daily banalities & expertly weaves them into her story-lines, is what makes you come back for more. Two described moments particularly jumped out to me in this book:
“My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, (…) I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others (…).” (p. 90)
“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon like a black sun behind cloudcover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket. (p. 197)
Contemplating between giving 4 or 5 stars, I’ll have to stick with 4 & a half, simply because I’m not a fan of open endings (*During the 2nd read, I felt like I enjoyed the book even more, but maybe because I was prepared for the open ending. This way I managed to enjoy the story more, rather than racing through towards the end, in order to find out how it all finally wraps up. *)