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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 
24th-Jul-2006 11:34 pm
Rose
July seems to be the month of choice for reading books that I only previously read excerpted cover-to-cover.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986.
Summary: The woman known only as Offred has one purpose as a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead--to give a man a child where his wife cannot. Yet this perfectly oppressive society has cracks around the edges...enough, perhaps, for escape.
Comments: Ultimate nightmare scenarios that never actually happen are a popular grist mill for great literature--call this one 1984 for womenkind. Unfortunately, the conceit involving the genesis of the society is its weakest point: Men were BORED? Not threatened? Oh give me a break. Ideological warfare (terrorists! drugs! poverty!) is so much more expedient for that sort of thing than oppressing all women. Anyway, I guess it goes to show you that Atwood does, after all, represent an extension of sorts to New England gothic; her story takes place entirely in (what used to be) New England, and, in addition to the rather unpleasant plotline, embodies the aesthetic of the region. A born or at least bred citizen of the United States would be less likely, in my humble opinion, to locate such a theocracy in they liberal Northeast. *shrugs* Or maybe that's just for maximal impact? Really, The Handmaid's Tale is quite similar to Atwood's second novel Surfacing--both feature a tormented protagonist who has an affair with a married man and finds her reproductive rights abridged in some way. She seems equally horrified by militant pro-lifers and by the "messy" realities of abortion, which is a rather happy, unrealistic position when you think about it. Not all babies are wanted or for that matter sustainable; you'd think with all of Atwood's fever dreams of dystopia that she would know better. Oddly, the academic lecture at the end adds levity to the story that mitigates the horror of what has been heretofore described in a way I'm not certain is fully intended--it reveals the society as a temporary aberration of sorts, and indirectly answers the question left standing in the narrative itself. Even if Offred did not totally escape Gilead, subsequent generations did. There's that happy happy stuff again. In the most unlikely of tales.
Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition, 3rd printing
Rating: 7/10 - An important footnote in the backlash against Second Wave feminism. Unfortunately, it describes better than it instructs.
Comments 
25th-Jul-2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
I always pass by this book in the bookshop here and resist buying it, though not due to the author's style which is rather good from the few pages I've read. But it seems anti-feminist to me in a way and somehow unrealistic with a dose of what I perceive as an author's wish-fulfillment for a happy ending.

Mind you, I've only read parts of the book so I may be quite wrong.
25th-Jul-2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
Well, Atwood isn't antifeminist, if that's what you mean, though a lot of the characters in her book are. She seems to reject a lot of the more radical notions of second-wave feminism, but she definitely despises anything that restricts the aims of libertarian feminism.

And the ending is ambiguous. Like I said, the Gilead regime doesn't continue indefinitely, so that's a victory, but you don't know what happens to the protagonist (or all the other women who suffer on a personal level).
25th-Jul-2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
I guess what I'm trying to say is that she left me confused about her stance on things.
25th-Jul-2006 02:20 pm (UTC)
Well...let's put it this way: She doesn't think anyone has the right to tell any woman what she should do with her life or her body--but Atwood herself is addicted to the idea of man and children.
25th-Jul-2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
*nods*
It's like she can't decide whether she wants to be free or just take off a few shackles.

I remember reading a book of hers in the bookshop. It had a protagonist who marries a man simply to take care of his kids and him, though he clearly doesn't love her even after years have passed. I pretty much dropped the book back into its pile at that point.
25th-Jul-2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
Do you remember which one that was?

Of all of her books that I've read thus far, I've like Oryx and Crake the best, which was less about feminism and more about bioengineering. Plus, it was wonderfully weird.
25th-Jul-2006 02:39 pm (UTC)
Nope, it was more than a year ago. But I remember that at the ending, the woman has married a man who loves her but still goes all wistfull about the one who didn't. *rolls her eyes*
25th-Jul-2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
Err...The Robber Bride, maybe? (I dunno, sounds like it might be a possibility from the title. ^^; )
25th-Jul-2006 04:10 pm (UTC)
Really can't remember^^
25th-Jul-2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
Actually, I was looking at some of her novel summaries...and it's probably Cat's Eye. I think. ^^;;
25th-Jul-2006 02:38 pm (UTC)
Ugh, that "academic" appendix was like a fly in the soup for me. Oh well, good book mostly, though I haven't read it since highschool. maybe it's time for another crack to remind myself of what I thought was fairly potent at the time. i agree that the society depicted seems a bit hazy in its genesis.
25th-Jul-2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
Ugh, that "academic" appendix was like a fly in the soup for me. Oh well, good book mostly, though I haven't read it since highschool. maybe it's time for another crack to remind myself of what I thought was fairly potent at the time. i agree that the society depicted seems a bit hazy in its genesis.
25th-Jul-2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
*nods* Yeah, not to mention that Offred's narrative was waaay too polished to have been dictated straight into a tape, in my humble opinion.
25th-Jul-2006 08:11 pm (UTC)
interesting, as this book is highly regarded by the feminists i know. it was the book that made me decide to become an english major back in the day, and i, along with all my feminist friends, get it into the hands of every woman we know asap.
1st-Aug-2006 04:28 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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