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175 of 184 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still good 20 years on
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...
Published on 3 Sep 2006 by Magpie

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Dystopian Novel
I was a little bit unsure about this at first as to be honest, I knew Margaret Atwood was the author of one of my wife's books and to be honest, her books aren't always my cup of tea.

The story is set within a bleak and totalitarian, Christian fundamentalist, dystopian Northern United States. Any opposition to the regime or failure to follow the strict rules is...
Published on 3 Dec 2011 by Killie


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175 of 184 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still good 20 years on, 3 Sep 2006
By 
Magpie (Czech Republic) - See all my reviews
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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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than a feminist polemic ..., 22 Jan 2002
By A Customer
... it's a rattling good read.
Think about your ability to browse through an internet shop, the power you have to earn money, to hold it and to choose how you spend it. Think about your right to education, should you chose to exercise it. Think about warmth and love and husbands and children.
Imagine all that taken away, the sense of loss, love vanquished, family disappeared, and the comfort of books denied you. Imagine women colluding in oppressing their own sex.
But there is redemption in subversion and small acts of defiance.
It's a clever book, ideas subtly woven, like a fairy tale invoking the dark with the faint promise of light.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully crafted and utterly absorbing narrative, 16 Dec 2000
By 
A stunning novel which depicts a world all too possible in reaction to today's permissive society. It tells the story of Offred, condemned after a military coup, in which she is forcibly separated from her husband and daughter, to become a handmaid, whose function is to produce a child for an infertile older woman. Atwood's remarkable non-linear narrative technique takes getting used to, the main plot being punctuated by both recent and 'time before' flashbacks, but the story is so absorbing that you quickly get accustomed to the style. The novel is eloquently written with its fascination for the nuances of language; (natural communication is suppressed, a common feature of dystopian fiction.) As time passes, Offred's desire for freedom and determination to resist the regime (a Christian fundamentalist state, closely based on misogynistic Old Testament teachings) increase. We are entirely gripped by her plight and willing her to succeed. Does she? You will need to read the book to find out, but I can promise you, you will not anticipate the very unusual ending.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, it will terrify and move you with each word., 26 April 2001
By A Customer
This book has to be one of the most powerful, terrifying, and insightful books ever written about a very plausible future, where religion and politics win over morality. Margaret Atwood, has shown a deep understanding of the threats that women have faced in the past, and what they may possibly face in the future.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential, 16 Jun 2005
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
Following a Christian fundamentalist coup d'état in New England at some point towards the end of the twentieth century, a Handmaid is one of a tiny minority of fertile women in a society which has been devastated by unspecified environmental catastrophes. Her function is to provide offspring for the ruling elite, and to be sent to her death if she fails. She lives in a nightmare world of public executions, lynchings, propaganda, impregnation ceremonies... "The Handmaid's Tale" is the story of her inner rebellion, and her struggle to retain her sanity and her memories of "the time before".
Margaret Atwood has been at pains to stress that her novel is not "science-fiction", but "speculative fiction". In other words, it is not about little green men arriving from other planets, but about what happens if men from the planet Earth decide to take some of their more extreme ideas to their logical conclusions. The novel was published in the mid 1980s, against the background of the rise to prominence of the religious right during the Reagan years. In the opening years of the twenty-first century, it has lost none of its relevance. Au contraire...
"Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently." The novel constantly testifies to the vitality of the human spirit and its ability to survive in extreme adversity. "The Handmaid's Tale" has repeatedly been compared to "1984", but in fact is a much richer and deeper novel. Orwell's story is an important landmark in the novel of ideas, but Atwood, in addition to her ideas, has written a highly wrought poetic story, incorporating intensely moving meditations on love, loss and memory.
"The Handmaid's Tale" is without question one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. It demands to be read again and again and, in reading it, we must hope and hope that it never comes true.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent fictional depiction of a future dystopian society, 8 April 2002
By A Customer
This book is one of the best depictions i have read about a anti-utopian future society, along with others like '1984' and 'Brave New World'.
It combines a futuristic reality, feminism and politics to create a very detailed novel considering many different aspects of 'Gilead'.
'Offred' is the complex lead character who draws us into the seemingly perfect but corrupt world of Gilead. Her pain is experienced by the readers who long to remember exactly what she has forgotten, and what she wants to find out.
The experiences she goes through are strange, sometimes outright bizarre,and her world comes crashing down on us.
'The Handmaids Tale' is very thought-provoking, the future of women and indeed the world lies in the actions of today's society, and Atwood uses her perceptions of the present world to support the background of her novel.
Altogether 'The Handmaids Tale offers what all novels should: love, loss, action, comedy(ironic,but appropriate) vision, plot. It plays with all emotions.
A very good read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Poignant today than ever, 17 Oct 2005
By 
DevJohn01 (Somerset, NJ) - See all my reviews
I was very excited to begin reading this book. I loved the premise and thought that it would be interesting, but as I began reading I was looking for answers that Atwood didn't seem to want to provide. I wanted to know how this society where women were allowed no freedoms and were torn from their families and friends came about. How America, once the land of the free became the land of the oppressed. Call me impatient but as I read every chapter that left these questions unanswered the more bored I grew with this book. Until Atwood began to slowly reveal the events that led up to the existence of such a society and it was almost like a punch in the stomach when she did. It is impossible not to compare the events in this book with the events of the last few years and how our world is slowly changing, not necessarily in this direction, but it definitely makes you see how anything is possible.
I was only seven years old when this book was first published so I am not sure if Atwood was that prophetic or if the direction that this country was headed in was clear even then. I am sure the case is true more of the latter than the former. If you haven't read this book already I definitely suggest that you order a copy, it is worth the read. Personally I plan to pass my copy on to all of my friends and anyone else who may want to read it. This may be a hard title to find at your local bookstore but order it if need be, it is worth it!
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true modern classic!, 7 Mar 2003
By 
The book describes the story of Offred, a Handmaid, that is a woman ascribed a breeding function by society, and who is placed with a husband and wife higher up the social ladder who "need" a child. Through Offred's eyes we explore the rigidity of the theocracy in which she lives, the contradictions in the society thay have created, and her attemnpts to find solace through otherwise trivial things.
Whilst it shares many common features with George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, Atwood has managed to create a truly original piece of work, and deserves all the praise she receives for it.
Like the afore-mentioned works, The Handmaid's Tale works so well because it holds a mirror up to contemporary society whilst it explores how society might work in the future. It is a biting commentary about female emancipation, that never fails to make the reader stop and think about how things are now. Do women REALLY have freedom to, as is suggested in the book. The book also raises a number of interesting points about masulinity as well - are men only to be judged on their ability to fertilise women, and is there some "masculine" norm to which men must currently strive to achieve.
Atwood backs up this philosophical debate with a lively prose that is beautifully descriptive, and also a keen sense of how to narrate such a tale. She manages to provide a drip drip of detail that never quite satisfies the reader's thrist to find out what is happening, and indeed what happened.
The ending initially seemed disappointing, but the technique of using a section of Historical Notes at the end of the book substantially enhances the book, making the end a lot kore complete, by ironically leaving Offred's fate open to interpretation.
The Handmaid's Tale is a true 20th century classic. I am glad that it is on the A Level syllabus if it means that more people get to read this excellent novel.
Atwood's
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling warning, 28 Feb 1999
By A Customer
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quest for personal freedom in the face of degradation!, 25 Jan 2004
Atwood's work is enjoyable on a number of levels. The first of these is in her talent as a storyteller. Her narrative constructs are rich in multiple layers that move through time with abandon, employing the use of flashbacks, dreams and distorted memory to go in and out of the story to re-examine the clues that are being left for us. Her work always has strong ties to the detective/mystery genre, even if the surface level would suggest otherwise. Here the story begins in a manner akin to film-noir; as we are thrown into a setting that we do not understand, whilst a myriad of stark and constantly free-flowing evocations are thrown at us in an attempt to leave us as bewildered and disturbed as the central character. It works. This subjective opening vignette was enough to persuade me to initially give up on the book as I waded into the unknown. Too ambiguous I though... too directionless. I stuck with it though, and gave the book my full concentration, so that by the time I'd reached the end of chapter two I really couldn't stop. I was engrossed.
The story is pretty much non-existent... in the same way that the story to such classics as the Bell Jar and the Lord of the Flies was an excuse by the author's for an emotional journey, so too is this. Our focus for attention is a mysterious woman known as Offred... not wanting to give to much of the character away, her name comes from a slight Swedish/Russian translation of the word sacrifice. She becomes our guide to this alien world, and we become her confidant. In the same way that Alex shares with us his exploits in A Clockwork Orange, so to does Offred, who shares with us her pain, her fragmented memories and her desire for some kind of escape. The central enigma is the discovery of her name before the construction of the colonies and the disintegration of society. This ties in with Atwood's other great talent, that being her fierce knowledge of social and political history. This gives her work an even starker emotional relevance that makes the usually far-fetched confines of science fiction seem almost like documented history. Her attention to detail in creating the world in which these characters inhabit is completely mind-blowing, being both an original, imaginative construct but also a horrifying reflection of our own world.
The book was first published in the mid-nineteen-eighties, and we can clearly see the shadow of AIDS hanging like the sword of Damocles above the central social ideology and the aggressive treatment of sex and sensuality. There are also many allusions to the treatment of the Jews during the holocaust, the civil rights movement and unified segregation... all shot through with the many pretensions of that particular decade and it's NOW generation. The story builds slowly but we never feel bored by what is happening. Through the use of the slow-burning detective lay out, Atwood is able to get the reader interested in these characters and ask ourselves questions throughout the book... by the half way point I was demanding answers, moving through the book faster than any other I've ever read but at the same time trying to savour every last evocative detail. By the time I'd reached the closing chapters I was completely in love with the character of Offred... Atwood is able to embody this woman with a 'real' spirit that makes us care about her like no other literary figure before (slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean).
The dénouement of the book is a stunning example of Atwood creative use of storytelling. Not wanting to give anything away, I'll just say it's one of those endings that places an entirely new light on the proceeding work and leaves you desperate to go back to the beginning and start again. All of this is tied together by Atwood's stunning use of language... honestly, if you ever get the chance to experience her poetry do so. The use of description here creates a kind of atmosphere that few books can equate, carefully setting up a level of mechanical degradation during the scenes within the colonies, whilst simultaneously giving the memories of Offred and her moments of tranquillity a down to earth beauty that is still totally real. This book moved and gripped me like no other, taking me on an intelligent and deeply compelling journey into the soul of one of the most significant tortured heroines ever created. To dismiss it as a copy of 1984 and Brave New World is a great injustice... this book has an underlining degree of beauty that those works could only dream of.
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