Argobot

The Idle Book Club 24: The Handmaid's Tale Pre-Discussion

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Ah this is great! I've had The Handmaid's Tale sitting on my shelf ready to read for a while now - will get a start this weekend.

 

I've previously read Atwood's The Blind Assassin and it was really good. It has a construction that's playful in a similar way to Wuthering Heights (stories told inside stories), and it's had a strange effect on me.. where I've really enjoyed some books in the past but then forgotten key elements or what went on, The Blind Assassin has managed to stick firmly in my mind, even though at the time it didn't exactly hit me head on. I think it was the melancholy of it; at the time it had an almost oppressive effect, but remembering back to it I'm entranced by that feeling, and am drawn to reading more of her.

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59 minutes ago, Jason Bakker said:

Ah this is great! I've had The Handmaid's Tale sitting on my shelf ready to read for a while now - will get a start this weekend.

 

I've previously read Atwood's The Blind Assassin and it was really good. It has a construction that's playful in a similar way to Wuthering Heights (stories told inside stories), and it's had a strange effect on me.. where I've really enjoyed some books in the past but then forgotten key elements or what went on, The Blind Assassin has managed to stick firmly in my mind, even though at the time it didn't exactly hit me head on. I think it was the melancholy of it; at the time it had an almost oppressive effect, but remembering back to it I'm entranced by that feeling, and am drawn to reading more of her.

 

Yes! The Blind Assassin is the only other Atwood book I've read and I had a very similar reaction to that book. It's like the power of her words have seeped into me and created an undefinable but very real change that even years later I cannot shake. I love that book. 

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This book is really good. Read in college (12 years ago 🙁)

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On 11/03/2017 at 2:40 AM, Argobot said:

 

That is a great read - Atwood is seriously classy.

 

I finished reading it today, here're my quick thoughts:

 

Spoiler

First off, I really enjoyed it. One of the things that I liked the most is how much she tries to capture the main character's internal state of thought, and the way that she thinks.  Elements that might come off as a bit too ornamental in another work, like the wordplay and exploration of imagined etymology that begins many of the chapters, felt entirely natural to the experience of this very intelligent person who has to have some way of keeping her mind occupied in this incredibly constrained situation.

 

Similar to my feelings about The Man in The High Castle, I was wary of this what-if scenario, and early on in the book, I was feeling a little bit like it could be seen as a kind of strawman representation of the kind of world that a highly religious, patriarchal person (like, say, certain men in high positions in in the US federal system) might desire. But I think what keeps it from crossing the line in that regard is that it's focused more on the main character's experience of the world, as opposed to the world itself - whenever I felt indignant while reading, it was centred around my empathy for the main character's incompatibility with her situation, which is something that will always exist in a world where there's a highly religious or stratified social order - there will be people who don't fit the mould that society requires of them.

 

I think also, a key point is that while there's maybe a little more of an element of "fun" in exploring this what-if scenario than TMiTHC (one moment jumped out at me as particularly over-indulgent in this regard: the paragraph about the "Pen Is Envy" slogan at the Red Center), like Dick Atwood is making very particular and sobering points with her what-if. And by tying it so heavily to the the personal experience of a cis woman, she avoids the trap of it being too abstract or academic, which is something that I did feel TMiTHC suffered from a bit.

 

The final chapter was... interesting. It dives deeply into a speculative fiction trope, but I think what makes it relevant is that through it Atwood is trying to, as directly and loudly as she can, state: "You know this book you read, which is fiction, a fantasy, some kind of horrifying vision of a world you can't imagine actually existing? Well here are all of the real societies throughout history that have done the exact things that are in this book - some of them less than a century ago, in countries where it would be as unthinkable to their citizens now as it is to you, in your country." I have a feeling that this is a big reason a lot of people have been referencing The Handmaid's Tale recently in regards to what's going on at the moment in the US. Maybe instead of a snarky response to speculation about the immediate future, we need to be a bit more imaginative, and allow the possibility of legitimately terrifying things happening if we don't get up and stand against it. Trump's entire existence is a terrible cliche, but that doesn't mean he isn't potentially a very real harbinger of this or any number of unthinkable situations coming to pass.

 

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