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on 19 September 2017
Oh wow! What a book; I'll be thinking about this extraordinary story long after I've finished reading it. Grim, disturbing, shocking, menacing I had a horrible sense of foreboding every time I picked it up wondering what harrowing circumstances those poor people would have to further endure and the ending just created more unanswered questions and left you wondering about possible scenarios on so many different levels. I couldn't put it down though; this will be hard to beat and it kept me gripped from start to finish; it will be hard to find a book equally as enthralling for a future read.
The book describes a dystopian world where many women have been left barren by nuclear toxicity in an area of North America named Gilead; consequently the new regime forces fertile women to live with the families of high ranking officials in order to provide babies for the elite. It is a terrifying world where women's rights have been taken away from them, for example it is a crime for them to read and write; the handmaids are under the jurisdiction of the ferocious aunts who seem to take pleasure in subjugating their charges by torturing and punishing them for every minor misdemeanour with their inhumane cattle prod.
I loved the symbolism of the book with the handmaids clothed as demure Quakers in long dresses complete with white winged hats which restricted their viewing; yet the dresses were scarlet as opposed to the Marthas attired in brown and the high ranking wives decked in blue; are the handmaids dressed in red because in man's Utopian world he has a vision/ fantasy of women with the subservience and obedience of a Quaker but the sexuality of a scarlet woman? The wives and aunts had control over the handmaids who all lived in fear of being shipped to the colonies where victims there were forced to clear up toxic waste without the benefit of any protective clothing whatsoever which led to their cruel and painful deaths within a few short years. All communities lived in terror and dread of the secret eyes who covertly spied upon the population ready to pick up offenders in their menacing black vans to steal them away to some unspeakable end.
The disturbing ending raised more questions than it answered although some clues are provided in the historical notes which provides further food for thought on the terrifying issues evoked. One thought Offred gave voice to remains chillingly in my head; she stated how humans accept and adapt so quickly and easily to changes in circumstances no matter how bad or wrong those circumstances are. I will finish now for fear of giving too much of the plot away but what a brilliant book, I will be thinking about this for a very long time.
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on 19 July 2017
I read this ahead of the new TV series and it's such a page-turner (which is weird for a book where the story is mostly going on in someone's head). A brilliant, thought-provoking book. Margaret Atwood deserves huge book sales, post the TV series.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 August 2016
Margaret Atwood takes the reader into a world both totally, shockingly alien and at the same time not that far fetched - into a society where women are again relegated to the status of chattel. It describes a dystopian successor to the USA - the Republic of Gilead. As the reasons for the change only become aparent throughout the book and I want to post no spoilers here, the reader will need to discover why and how it came to that.

What you are confronted with right from the start is a society, where women are classed into five categories - Handmaids (for lack of a better expression the fertile ones used for breeding), Marthas (basically doing the housework), wives (those of higher end functionaries) Econowives (those of 'lesser men') and unwomen, which get sent to the colonies, where they are worked to death.

This world is presented from the perspective of Offred, a handmaid slowly rediscovering her past, which allows the reader to understand the world, the reasons for the change and the results. You could call it a non-Moslem version of the Islamic State, the Middle Ages, a horror. And yet you have people defending the system just as ardently as today's societal structure is.

The debate revolves around the freedom to (our current state, if you wish) versus freedom from (the argument in many Moslem countries, and here in the Republic of Gilead) and is - in spite of the book being some years old now, supremely topical again.

The reading is not light and will definitely result in reflection both during and after finishing the book. What do we want the society to be, what are we prepared to accept, what are we willing to do against this dystopian view. Some may say that this could never happen in the US or in Western Europe but even if I hope that it cannot, it does not harm to go through the mental experiment to understand the consequences of inaction.

Finally, the books is written in a fluent style and one really sees the protagonist developing. It is not a page turner due to the difficult topic but it is not heavy going.

So in the end, I find it recommended reading for the general population (male and female likewise). Not something for the beach or the commute but definitely something to make you think about society and our role in it.
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on 7 May 2018
The Handmaid’s Tale is a very readable dystopian fantasy, but one that seems to be rather over-rated. The novel has acquired a reputation as a literary classic, in a way that similar novels like Earth Abides or The Day Of The Triffids or Fugue For A Darkening Island have not. Somehow it has been presented as not to be classified within the science fiction genre, as those books are, with the result that its imagination appears to be more exceptional than it really is. The portrayal of a society ruled by far-right fundamentalist values is vivid enough, but any political point the novel might be making would be much more effectively carried out by a description of a real society run in that way, such as that achieved in the greatly superior novel, The Kite Runner. The Handmaid’s Tale fails to make much of a feminist statement either, although to be fair, Margaret Atwood states in her introduction that this was never her intention. The ending of the novel, where it is revealed that the narrative comprises a historical document, describing a society that no longer exists, is a considerable let-down too, especially when the reader is left with no knowledge of the eventual fate of the story’s narrator.
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on 25 May 2018
Sorry but I really didn't like it. Sadly I listened to all the hype about the tv series and bought the book. I don't usually read this type of book and shouldn't have bothered.

What I liked: the characters are strong and you build a relationship with them.

What I didn't like: it's really hard to read. the authors reading style is to do 3 line long sentences with 5 or 6 commas. I found it hard to find where the inflection should be and had to re-read some sentences to really get them. I found the story slow and shallow and that it ended in the middle of nowhere.

As someone who usually enjoys a good horror or thriller, I just greatly disliked this book. I stuck it out to the end and gave it a really good try but unfortunately based on this book I wouldn't try any others from this author.
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on 1 April 2018
A very intruiging book indeed. Could it really happen? I guess so. A bleak ending but inevitable. I read it as it was on Amazon top 100 and glad I did. The writer creates a creepy atmosphere where you can never tell who is loyal or who is an enemy and I guess that's what happens in these types of totalitarian states. I guess thank yourself lucky that you get to read good books, watch all the array of movies and series on Netflix, eat what you fancy and to a degree say what you wish. It could all be different if what happens in the handmaids take comes to fruition, which has happened in certain places across the globe in the past...... who knows what the future holds. Enjoy and read the book. Give stars for a well written dystopian novel.
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on 7 November 2016
This is a story of the subjugation of women, in the extreme. Atwood shows us men making use of religion to create a society of their own design in an effort to survive a disaster very probably of their own making. Difficulties in human reproduction have turned pregnancy on its head, twisting it away from the natural order of life to a prized possession. One that mothers no longer have ownership of.
The suffering of men in this terrible society devised by Atwood is not detailed but neither is it ignored. One has only to look around at present, past and likely new leaders, to know there is a real possibility of this, or something like it, occurring in the future.
Lastly, I won’t give anything away but must admit to being a little disappointed with the end of the story. Until I found that was not actually the end of the book. There is a summing up that was simply marvellous.
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on 18 July 2017
A very thought provoking book indeed. Amazing. It's been on my reading list for ages. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Found the echoes with what's going on in parts of the world to day uncomfortable.
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on 17 October 2017
What more can one add to the fantastic reviews this has received. I only came across it because of the tv series and needed to find out more. I was not disappointed and, whilst the series does not follow the book slavishly, the book stands alone as a very thought provoking read. It's amazing that it was written quite a while ago as the topics covered are very contempory.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 October 2014
This famous 1980s dystopian novel paints a vivid and bleak portrayal of a repressive regime (Gilead) set up in America after some kind of traditionalist right wing takeover, which involves placing most women in utterly subordinate roles as "baby carriers" for the wives of the ruling men in this society. Indeed, one of the new society's slogan is an ironic distortion of the famous Marxist Leninist slogan: "from each according to her ability, to each according to his needs". The new regime also destroys books, luxury items and clothes, and bans and represses all non-Christian religions, or indeed non-conforming Christians. An interesting scenario, though we don't really find out the back story as to how this perverted society arose until over half way through the novel. The coup apparently involved the massacring of the President and Congress, blamed on Islamic fanatics (though this is a throw away sentence which isn't explored any further); then comes suspension of the Constitution, censorship and closing down of the press, then laws stopping women from holding jobs or owning money or property (or even from reading books or magazines). By the time our unnamed Handmaid is telling her tale, the regime has been in place for a few years, though as she also says that the earlier pre-coup life is well within the memory of 14 year old girls, it seems a little surprising that the new order has embedded itself so completely in such a comparatively short time. We don't find out the ultimate fate of our heroine, though in a postscript set 200 years into the future, her tale is being discussed at an academic conference as a source of evidence of Gileadean theocracy.

Despite this fascinating scenario and the commentary it no doubt provides, to a degree, on right wing Christian fundamentalism in the United States, I didn't really much enjoy reading the novel. I found the author's writing style a bit of a chore in a number of places and novels written in the present tense tend to grate on me. It was sometimes unclear whether the Handmaid was describing events in her present or her past and exactly how other events related to each other in time. So, a significant novel but not, in my view, a great one.
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