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The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics) Paperback – 5 Jul 1996

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Product details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 July 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099740915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099740919
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (460 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays.

In addition to the classic The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize and Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, was published in 2009. She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature in 2008.

Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto, Canada.

(Photo credit: George Whitside)

Product Description

Review

"The Handmaid's Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story" (Angela Carter)

"Out of a narrative shadowed by terror, gleam sharp perceptions, brilliant intense images and sardonic wit" (Peter Kemp Independent)

"The images of brilliant emptiness are one of the most striking aspects of this novel about totalitarian blindness...the effect is chilling" (Linda Taylor Sunday Times)

"Powerful...admirable" (Robert Irwin Time Out)

"Fiercely political and bleak, yet witting and wise...this novel seems ever more vital in the present day" (Observer)

Book Description

'Compulsively readable' Daily Telegraph

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Molly Dowrick on 28 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
New to the genre of dystopian literature, I wasn't sure what to expect when told by my English Teacher that my class and I would be studying "The Handmaid's Tale" by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, as part of our A-Level study, but this intense and powerful book had me gripped from the beginning.

The Handmaid's Tale successfully explores a range of themes to enable the reader to question the totalitarian state system and fill their heads with `what if' questions as to what would happen if our lives were dictated by a ruling authority. Two particularly significant themes in the anti-utopian novel comprise of women's role in society and society's control over its citizens in the "Republic of Gilead", a futuristic USA, but instead of a United States symbolising freedom, Gilead oppresses its citizens and instead emphasises racist, homophobic and traditionalist Christian morals and attitudes, so much so that going against the ruling regime is just asking for death.

Considered special as she is one of only a few fertile women, after infertility caused by AIDS and other diseases swept across Gilead, the novels protagonist `Offred', has just one function: to breed. Known as a `handmaid', a role Offred chose purely to escape being sentenced to `the Colonies' (a place full of pollution and nuclear radiation), along with those classed as `incapable of social integration' including feminists, lesbians and nuns, Offred is allocated a high-ranked couple and is employed by them to sleep with the husband, known as the `Commander', in order to become a surrogate mother for his wife, who is presumed to be infertile in a society that blames all problems on women.
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194 of 207 people found the following review helpful By Magpie on 3 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
I still don't know what inspired me to take this book home from the library that day back when I was 16- up until then the only "grown up" literature I had read had been formulaic historical romances of the Catherine Cookson variety.

I can now credit this book with opening the door to a whole different world of books from what I was used to- books that demanded me to THINK.

And, being only 16, and not reading this book as part of my English class but rather just for myself, I was swept away by it.

Then, a couple of years ago, I got hold of a copy and read it again, curious if it would still seem so mind-blowing (I remember re-reading my beloved Narnia stories as an adult and getting the shock of my life).

And I can say that, half a life later, this book remains one of the best books I have ever read. Why?

I am still amazed at the author's imagination. How did she manage to describe the menace of a totalitarian regime so well? Science Fiction often dates quickly, seeming at best naive decades after it was written. And for me, reading this book 20-odd years after it was written, in this older and wiser post-9/11 world, certain aspects of the book took on new meaning (religious fundamental regime, strict rules about women's dress, football stadium executions).

It may not be a perfect book, but I think it is worth reading for its ideas (and warnings). And all that aside, it's a gripping read!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Feb. 1999
Format: Paperback
truly an underrated masterpiece, Margaret Atwood uses her immense skill of the language to draw the reader into the life of Offred, A woman who has been forcibly given "freedom from"the world as we know it today, to become a breeding macine to the ailing elite in a christian dictatorship.The overriding theme is not one of a barren heartless world,but more of a story of passion and change,in the life of the character . This book is truly Margaret Atwood in stye, which may confuse those not familiar to her work.If you have seen the film the book far,far,far surpasses any expectations you may have. The content of the book is terrifyingly brilliant, and two pieces of information shoud scare you the most 1) every attrocity in the book is real -has happened in the real world,and2) Gilead could be formed tomorrow.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Supportyourlocallibrary on 24 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
The Handmaid's Tale is set in a future America where epidemics and pesticides have made the majority of the population sterile and in the face of catastrophically declining birthrates a right wing, Old Testament fundamentalist theocracy have used this crisis as a pretext to completely reorder the social structure of America. Only a handful of women are able to have children: the so-called 'Handmaids' who form a sort of slave class and act as 'second wives' to rich and powerful men so that they can reproduce. The Handmaids are indoctrinated beforehand as part of a special religious order and much of the novel is concerned with their conditioning process. Although ostensibly a Christian dictatorship the women are 'covered up' and they live their lives under something akin to an extreme form of 'Sharia' law as outlined by, say, the Iranian Revolution or more recently, the Taliban.

The story centres around one of these handmaids, 0ffred and her life as a potential surrogate mother to a childless couple: a high ranking commander and his wife, Serena Joy. In this future American dystopia, as set out by Margaret Atwood, sex is very tightly controlled (under pain of death) and yet in spite of this powerful disincentive Offred is drawn into a complex web of transgressive relationships that are bubbling away under the surface of this supposedly perfectly ordered society. The political vision outlined in this novel is genuinely terrifying and Margaret Atwood has shown much skill in highlighting all of the potential tensions and contradictions that would be likely to occur in such a society. However, the 'religious right' in America are a declining cultural force and I'm not sure many people today worry about a fundamentalist Christian take over of America (America has changed enormously since the book was written) but I still found it to be a very compelling read about what can happen when the wrong people are in charge.
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