The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood
Reviewed date: 2022 Feb 4
Rating: 2
358 pages

cover art

I am not a fan. The main character, Offred, is a passive protagonist. She never once takes an action. She is acted upon. I prefer stories about people who take action. This is a story about someone who is abused and oppressed, and that's it. No thanks.

My other complaint is that a story about an American fundamentalist Christian dystopia does not strike me as particularly insightful. Indeed, it strikes me as mean-spirited, narrow-minded, and cruel. Now, maybe this story hit a little differently in the 1980s as it does today. Today, the progressives in American society seem to think that anybody who follows the Billy Graham rule is a bigoted theocratic fundemantalist who has no right to participate in public life. In the 1980s, maybe the idea of America turning into a theocratic dystopia was intriguing and a little far-fetched. Well, it's still far-fetched, but it's something the culture regularly accuses Christians of wanting to enact, and I'm tired of being slandered.

Oh, and the book is so agonizingly slow. It took half the book for Offred to just walk to the store and buy food. I may be exaggerating a bit. Also, Atwood spends an inordinate amount of time building up to the big reveal: that Offred's job is to have sex with the Commander and bear his children. But, I mean, that's already revealed by the blurb on the back, and by the Bible passage Atwood quotes in the introduction, so it's not a big reveal at all. You can't spoil the big honking surprise on the very first page, and then spend half the book leading up to a big reveal. It just doesn't work.

One part of the book that I found particularly insightful was the way in which electronic money was weaponized. Cash had basically been eliminated, and the authorities simply closed every woman's bank account and shut off women's access to the financial network. Overnight, every woman became totally dependent on the men in their lives. As we move more and more into a cashless society, this specter of being cut off from banking--and from other online services--is a more real threat. We need a modernized Bill of Rights to protect every citizen's right to electronic banking.

Overall, not the book for me. It's well written, I mean, stylistically. Atwood is very good. The problems (for me) are in 1) the entire concept, 2) the passive protagonist, 3) the plot spoilers, and 4) slow pace.

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