Book Bingo 2019 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. Each Saturday, on a fortnightly basis, beginning on Saturday 5th January 2019, Ashleigh, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2019 card contains a total of 30 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by the end of December. Two of the Book Bingo entries this year will be flexible, so that means it is completely down us as to when we post these entries, to ensure all 30 are ticked off by the end of the year. Do keep an eye out on our respective blog sites for our bonus round entries! To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! However, as Ashleigh, Theresa and I enjoy similar books, especially books by Australian women writers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with more than one book double up, as was the case in 2018! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, or by visiting The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of twenty-first century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit and astute perception.
‘But that’s where I am, there’s no escaping it. Time’s a trap but I’m caught in it. I must forget about my secret name and all ways back. My name is Offred now, and here is where I live.’
So here’s the thing, I was dreading, I mean really dreading the ‘themes of science fiction’ category of Book Bingo 2019. My past history with science fiction hasn’t been great. I put it down to an ill response I had to the first science fiction title I read in my early teens for year eight English class, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I detested this book and I just couldn’t get my head around the belief factor in this novel. Ever since, I’ve avoided classic science fiction titles such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, while ignoring any new release science fiction titles. Science fiction is a broad genre and I was able to draw on the recent enjoyment of the ten part television series ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as the impetus to the read the novel for Book Bingo 2019. Classed as a dystopian based science fiction novel, penned in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those modern classic books that I have always wanted to read but I haven’t had the chance. I was actually dismayed as a seventeen year old when our English literature class covered a different text instead of this one, which was on the curriculum. Now, two decades later, and over thirty years since The Handmaid’s Tale first released, I finally got my chance to experience all this book had to offer.
For those who are not aware of the book’s main ideas, The Handmaid’s Tale centres on the life of Offred, a handmaid, who lost her previous life, husband, daughter, friends, job, and money when she was plucked to become a breeding maid. Offred must produce a child for the greater good, as Atwood’s society has seen a total decline in birth rates due to radiation pollution, rendering most females infertile. Only a handful of women can still reproduce and these women are known as ‘handmaids’. In this society, every woman is suppressed and has their position in a hierarchy. The world is defined by religious order, morals are preserved and demureness is the only way to present yourself. There is no freedom and all forms of media are banned. Offred dreams of her past life and with subtle hints of a rebellion, she lives in hope that one day she can break free from Gilead.
I committed the cardinal sin of reading the book after the series – and the long and the short of it is I definitely enjoyed the series far more than the book. The series went much further than the book, offering an extensive exploration of character and the vivid depiction of the dystopian world of Gilead.
As a novel, I think The Handmaid’s Tale holds plenty of weight, the themes and ideas the book raises has plenty of relevance now as it did back in the 1980s. Atwood draws on misogyny, feminism, infertility, pollution, identity, suppression, violence, religion, uniformity, class classification, refugees and so much more. This is a text rich in imagery and thought. It almost comes as a pre-warning, that if we keep going down the track we are following now, we might possibly face the shocking reality posed in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Offred is our guide in The Handmaid’s Tale, her voice is compelling, as well as her experiences. We flash in and out of Offred’s present day experiences in Gilead as a handmaid, along with her past. Here we learn she once had a husband and daughter. Supporting Offred are her chain of suppressors such as Aunt Lydia, her Commander, his wife Serena, her fellow handmaid companions, driver Nick and figures from her past, such as Moira. This is powerful female storytelling and it definitely got under my skin.
The ending posed in the book is fairly open-ended and to be honest, I did want more of a conclusion to Offred’s situation and that of the whole society – did society rebel and see collapse? Did Offred escape and was she ever able to be reunited with her daughter? I’d like to think so. My ‘Vintage’ publication did include plenty of extras and a whole backstory to support the text, which I found useful. With the recent news of a long awaited sequel in the works, which is due to be released later this year, it will be interesting to see what Atwood has in store for us.
I can see why The Handmaid’s Tale has re-entered bestseller charts so many years after its initial release. It has also been the subject of plenty of media recreation, from films, plays, operas and even ballets performed around the world based on this dystopian classic. There is plenty to ponder and we sit in hope that we will not see a religious totalitarian society quite like that posed in The Handmaid’s Tale in our future.
‘Live in the present, make the most of it, it’s all you’ve got’.
**** 4 stars
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was first published in 1985. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, visit here.