I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.’
Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford – her assigned name, Offred, means ‘of Fred’. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.
Masterfully conceived and executed, this haunting vision of the future places Margaret Atwood at the forefront of dystopian fiction.
It was the television series that brought me to this book. I found it deeply disturbing and felt that perhaps some cruelty and hard-hitting scenes were glorified just for television. I wanted more of an insight into the story itself and knew I could probably get that directly from the book.
However, I did find the book a little confusing. If it hadn’t been for the television series, then I might have given up with it. It was written in the first person and present tense, which felt odd. Some of the things I didn’t understand on the television programme, the book explained. So the two worked in tandem.
Although the TV series followed the line of the book, I found it less graphic but more disturbing. The way it happened felt as if it could happen like that, It’s easy to imagine the world stepping backwards to where women are the lesser species again, and at times made uncomfortable reading.
However, I left the television series after Offred’s big escape. I was devastated to see how she was so easily caught when freedom was within touching distance. It really rocked me. I wanted her to be reunited with her husband, who had escaped earlier on, although this was not part of the book. I hoped reading it might make it easier to go back to the television series. Except the book finished before this took place. I’m not sure I can go back to it now. Seeing Offred dragged out of the plane kicking and screaming was more than I could bear.
There is one scene that I have to say something on – the mass hanging. All those handmaid’s being taken to the football stadium and being pushed and kicked as they were herded onto the field. The utter shock and terror at seeing the long lines of gallows. It was heart stopping. As the ropes were put over their necks, Auntie appeared. It turned out to be a scare tactic to keep them in line because they were needed to give birth to the next generation of children. It was utterly horrific to go to such lengths and to be so uncaring,.
For me that’s where the story fell apart. All those men taking control, and the Aunties ruling with a fist of iron. Where was the compassion? Not all men think like that, not all ‘older’ women are like the Aunties. Oh, I know they got rid of men who didn’t agree, and all the older women put in camps with guards who kept them working with use of cattle prods, the same as the Auntie’s used on the handmaids. No one had any compassion. Too many people were cruel, I just couldn’t believe that. Not everyone is bad, even when self preservation takes over. There is as much good in the world as there is bad, and I saw little good here.
Yes, it’s a while since a story got me this wound up. Have you seen it? What did you think?