Book review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

You may well have heard of the very successful TV series The Handmaid’s Tale but did you know it’s based on a very successful book by the same name, written by Margaret Atwood?

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The Handmaid's Tale book review
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The Handmaid’s Tale tells the first-hand story of Offred, a Handmaid who lives in Gilead where women are no longer free and must survive by obeying the whims of their commanders. It’s mainly a first-hand account of her experiences under this regime and how the world treats women.

Plot – 3/5

The Handmaid’s Tale is a tale of suppressed women to the extreme – it’s a hyperbolic metaphor for how women felt during the 1980s when this book was written. This message is clear and one that is pushed throughout the book through literal interpretations. For example, Offred is not allowed to read, she’s not allowed to show skin, she must go to the market once a day and buy food for her commander and their family. Most importantly, she must lay on her back once a month and give herself to the Commander for the future of the human race.

This is the life Offred is used to. However, she’s assigned to a new commander and one day he asks her to come and play Scrabbled with her and she thinks things may change.

I’ll be honest, the plot was incredibly slow, especially for the first half. There’s a lot of explaining of thoughts and opinions on the climate that Offred finds herself in. However, there’s not a lot of actual plot taking place. The whole book really suffers from a lack of actual movement and is only blessed by the fact that it’s quite short.

Characters – 3/5 

Offred is the main character in The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s the one we hear the opinion of throughout the novel and we hear of her past before the regime. However, she lacks any real personality throughout and no one else really gets enough “air time” to bring anything else to the story. Unfortunately, I feel like this book suffers from trying to get a metaphor across so much (which it does do well) that it then lacks any additional substance.

The interaction between Offred and the Commander is really the only substantial dynamic there is throughout the book and is quite an interesting one to be fair. Without giving away too many spoilers, it definitely does liven up what is otherwise a really slow-paced book and the dynamic between the pair is quite interesting. Still not enough for me to particularly like either of them.

The Handmaid’s Tale summary – 3/5

After the hype around the tv show, I was quite disappointed by The Handmaid’s Tale. The plot itself is very slow and the characters barely have any interaction with one another and so don’t have any depth. This book reminds me a lot of The Man In The High Castle – there’s a great TV show out there based on some fantastic original material but the book from which they come aren’t as fleshed out and don’t hit the potential that the television shows reach.

I’d recommend reading The Handmaid’s Tale to those who have seen the TV Show or those who love to read dystopian fiction. Just don’t expect a lot of plot and don’t expect a lot of interaction between the characters.

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