Geek 12 Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

So everyone seems to want my thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale.  Well, everyone except those who want me to tell of my love for Stardust!?   I want to address these before this gets too crazy!    Too late – I’ve been working on this all day.   Here we go:   (Question in blue, Answer in red.)



Jeez, I haven’t read either of these… okay, would you recommend either of them to others? If you recommend both, which one should I read first, and why?


My favorite of the two was Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.   Usually, I prefer NOT to be told, “Oh CARE!  You MUST read this!  You’ll LOVE it!”   Indeed, such was the case with this book.    Why did I finally?   I really don’t know why this happened for me now.    1.  I missed the hype of this book way back when.   2.  I somehow missed the ‘WHAT it’s about’ so I was totally blind to the story and had no clue what I was in for.    3.   It keeps showing up on lists and I only knew it as ‘something I should read.’   Many books fall into that category for me so either it jumped into my hands at the bookstore or… Atwood was alphabetical?   I have no idea.


Julie, if points 1 or 2 describe you – read it.   If you prefer the fantasy that Gaiman is known and loved for, you will like Stardust, too.    Ah heck – READ ‘EM BOTH.    It does not matter in which order.   Whatever you are in the mood for.    Stardust is by far, the happier of the two.


And, this question alone SAVES ME!  from even a quick outline of plot.   I won’t do it.   Spoiler alert from here on?!


Joanne asks…

Do you think that this vision of the future is possible for us? How do you think women who do not have equal rights feel about this book?


Do I think this vision is possible?   I sincerely hope this is NOT part of any future possible to us, but I know not to say never.   Somewhere in the world right now, this is happening in similar form.   After I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, I remember wondering out loud if such could ever happen in America and I was severely disagreed with, “No, never in America!!”   But, I wonder.   Fanaticism is just plain scary.    


I had to read the second question quite a few times…    I could even suggest that few if any women anywhere have totally equal rights, to some extent.   Thus the fight continues even when others think no fight is needed.    So, if you want me to put myself in place of women where I  don’t think have equal rights to the men in society…   in Texas?  Or Afghanistan?  Or  Canada?   I can’t speak for them.    Myself, I was terrified, somber, left cold, by this tale.   And I devoured it!   I could not stop reading.



Regarding The Handmaid’s Tale — who do you think was worse at perpetuating this sick society, men or women?    


Oh.   I’m trying to answer these as if we are sitting in a book club meeting or face to face over tea…   Let’s switch to wine, shall we?    (I don’t like attempting to be academic, which is what this feels like.  Like school.)    The feminist in me says the men.   Yea – tis the MEN’s fault!    But humans can be evil, regardless of gender.



For Handmaiden’s Tale, what will stick with you from the book? Will you read other books by the author?


I am having such a hard time with this question!   I guess I will touch on my favorite part, the ending.     I thoroughly loved the relief, sort of, of knowing that academia finds this tale in the far far away future and all seems….  Normal?    At least, sane?   Comic even.  That the world didn’t end with fire and brimstone?   Yes, yes, that’s it.  I think.     I know I needed that closure and was thoroughly impressed with Atwood for giving us the epilogue.  Thank you MA!   It was all a dream…   (not really, nope NOT at all, but it did give me a similar sense of relief.)


[I wrote this whole post before I received this question from Christine of  What’s your take on the last section of The Handmaid’s Tale (”Historical Notes”)? I’ve heard people completely trash it, and others hail it as the most brilliant part of the entire book. I wrote a paper on it last year arguing that it’s completely necessary to the novel. What did you think of it? How did it change your perception of the events in the rest of the book (or, did it)? Do you think it’s a necessary addition, or should the rest of it have been allowed to stand on its own?]   Yes, Christine, it is necessary.


Lightheaded – one of my favorite blog headers, btw – gotta love the fishies!

Did you notice that the Philippines was mentioned in The Handmaid’s Tale? It’s where I’m from and yes, what Atwood pointed out in the book is correct. But I digress. I’d like to know your thoughts about The Handmaid’s Tale. I haven’t reread it for quite sometime (I think I first read it more than ten years ago) but it’s still a powerful book for me. Do you foresee a future like the one painted by Atwood in that novel?


I’m so sorry Lightheaded, but I do not recall the Philippines reference.   And I no longer have the book in my possession or I would be flipping through to find it!    But this reminds me that I thought it really cool that it was based in the Boston area!   Definitely New England…



I’ve heard that The Handmaid’s Tale would be a perfect intro to “science fiction-esque” books for someone who has never read that genre before. Do you agree/disagree? Have you read sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian books before?


YES!   I had NO IDEA that this might be science fiction (reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro).   Some of us (me included) do tend to jump to conclusions that the science fiction genre and even the term ‘futuristic’ implies space ships and alien beings from other planets, don’t we?     So, if you want to read science fiction that is not about spaceships, sure, read The Handmaid’s Tale and we can discuss.    To answer your second question, I read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash last year for the sole reason that it was science fiction.  I enjoyed it immensely.    I would read more; it just isn’t my first genre choice.   I don’t know if I have a genre preference, actually…



Have you read any other Margaret Atwood? What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale compared to her other books?


No, Eva, this is my first Atwood.   Which one do you recommend next for me?   I’m thinking Blind Assassin…  no reason, it’s top of mind, is all.    I’m getting vibes that she is not afraid to try the different and unusual; would this be correct?



Going off of Joanne’s question: Do you think we’re heading to a society like the one in Handmaid’s Tale? I saw a post today on a non-book blog that linked to an article about a law related to abortion that Bush wanted and instantly the blogger was saying we’re headed to a Handmaid’s Tale-type society. What do you think?


No, Trish, I do not think we are headed that way – but let me change my mind after November.    When’s that next seat open on the Supreme Court? – I suppose I should know that.   It does not hurt to have some people consider such a FEAR though, just to keep us all on our toes, maybe…   We must not get complacent.    (But I am… )



Were you able to identify with the character Offred? I saw Margaret Atwood speak once, and she said that people approach her and tell her it’s like she predicted the future, although she disagrees. Do you think there are any aspects of the novel that seem to reflect today’s political atmosphere?


The hardest question of all!   Yes, I was able to identify with Offred.   I loved her power of observation and I AM likely to be one who plays along as well as have a friend who doesn’t.     I am fearful of a moral majority that is neither.   I’m outraged at the little (or huge?) things – like book banning, and forbidding sex ed and the theory of evolution, etc.     But will we ever see SEX like it was formalized in this book?   Egads.   THAT was the strangest part!   I doubt it.    I don’t have any doubts, however, that any sleazeballs in power would have access to some kind of brothel.     Does that answer the question?  Nope.   Today’s political atmosphere…    I think today’s times are showing us that the tool to dumb the masses is DISTRACTION,  too much outrage, too much half details and TOO MUCH controversy and not enough rational discourse and courteous respect.    Since, there was little of that nor its opposite in the novel, I guess that is my answer.    If I was a more skilled and practiced thinker I would distract you with such a grand answer that you would forget what you asked me.   


A chilling quote I wrote down (page 56) “Ignoring is not the same as ignorance…”




Were there any parts of A Handmaid’s Tale, situations or regulations or problems that you found particularly frustrating or disturbing? Do you think this version of a dystopia is possible?


Kim, I am embarrassed to say that I had to look up ‘dystopia’ in the dictionary one of my first weeks book-blogging.   Call me Pollyanna?  I know what utopia is so why my first thought was that dystopia was some kind of eye disease, um – oh well…    I should be embarrassed.  


The WHOLE thing was disturbing!  And frustrating!!   From the slow hints of what was coming and then the QUICK taking away of privileges, the fearful attempt to go to Canada, the wondering what they were doing to her daughter, just how nuts the whole thing was.    To wondering how one could sit and do nothing for hours.   Prison would be more fun.   And how sad to have NO ONE to talk to!    Claustrophobia, anyone?   The brilliancy of the author to manipulate me and give me only crumbs of the story…   To the beautiful words to describe the flowers in the garden…    I so loved the unfolding even as my understanding of the horror grew.    How thankful that the sunshine and fresh air came back at the conference at the end.   I could breathe again.


“There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say:  whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.  A Tennyson garden, heavy with scent, languid, the return of the word swoon. …Rendezvous, it says, terraces; the sibilants rum up my spine, a shiver as if in a fever.”   (page 153)


In my journal, I have scant notes, mostly highlighting pages numbers for further reference.  For page 24, I have written ‘freedom to and freedom from – 8th grade.’  This reminds me of my parochial school graduation class ‘theme’ that our teacher picked as the only choice for us to vote on.   I only recall, “For you have freedom.  Not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to do right and serve God.”   I can’t find this verbatim in my Bible nor do I have a clue where my 8th grade scrapbook is, but the closest verse I could find was 1 Peter 2:16  “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God.”    (RSV)     I do remember being very perplexed by this definition of ‘freedom’.   And that we were not given any choice at all of what would be our class theme.  Perhaps, THAT is what made it memorable.  If we had suggested something together, would it have stuck with me?  (I would have recommended 1 John 4:7-8   )   

14 thoughts on “Geek 12 Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. Hehehe!! I liked that! I think Dewey had a great idea. 😀

    I’m SO glad you enjoyed. Yes, this was a fun week to be a geek…

  2. You got some really good questions and you did a wonderful job of answering them. I need to get back into participating in WG. Thanks for taking the time to answer all the questions so well.

    OH THANK YOU BeastMomma! This was a fun way to do a review – and I avoided saying what it was about and attempting to be cohesive… ha!

  3. 🙂 Thanks for answering my question. I didn’t read any of the rest of the post because I was afraid of spoilers. I am sure I will read Handmaid’s Tale at some point; Gaiman… maybe. I can feel my stubborn streak rising against all the hype…

    I get you and resisting hype. Although some times I just HAVE to know. Like DaVinci Code. Just had to read it, ya know? Sometimes I get to be ahead of the hype – Eat,Pray,Love for example – I had never heard of it when I picked it up. Maybe I started the hype on that one. (nah, Oprah did.) I’m actually glad you didn’t read more of the post. but it WAS fun to write a review to people I KNEW had already read it – if that makes any sense at all.

  4. I have a lot of questions too, lol. I think I’m going to spread it out over the next couple weeks! 🙂

    The Handmaid’s Tale is my favourite Atwood so far, but I’ve only read three or four (can’t quite remember). I looooved it.

    I am very impressed with Atwood and look forward to reading The Blind Assassin. DO NOT TELL ME WHAT IT’s ABOUT! hee heeh.

  5. And by Handmaid’s Tale, I completely meant The Blind Assassin. Whoops. Out in the sun too long! So I would recommend that one next. 😀

    Of course. Enjoy the sunshine!

  6. I can’t believe I still haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale. Hopefully I’ll get to it this year. you got some great questions and I love how you answered them!

    Thank you Nymeth. I wonder – too late now – if I would have read this at all if I had known what it was about… It’s still very good. I loved the writing, too, which this review doesn’t touch on much.

  7. Interestingly enough, Atwood would disagree with one of your answers. She’s quite emphatic that The Handmaid’s Tale is not science fiction at all. Here’s an excerpt from an interview:

    Q: It’s hard to pin down a genre for this novel. Is it science fiction?

    A: No, it certainly isn’t science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn’t this book at all. The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid’s Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now.


    I’m not posting that to stomp on you, but rather to ask a follow-up question: do you accept Atwood’s assertion that her novel is not science fiction? Do you think she’s off the mark? (Remember, we can’t always trust the author — what they think they’ve written doesn’t always correspond with what they actually have written).

    aha! a DISCUSSION! no problem – I don’t feel stomped on. Rather, I open a new window and google the terms while considering the possibility that I hastily relied on false definitions… Matter of semantics, perhaps.

    I am not one to challenge an author on what they think their works ‘mean’ or not. Remember, it’s been a long time since school for me and I have ignored all of this for decades!

    OK, speculative fiction works for me. True, this tale has little ‘science’ – especially as a device for “exploring the physical world”. It’s fine with me if people argue over whether the ending was necessary or not and I don’t really care what genre this should be classified in. I just know that I enjoyed it.

    I bet this is a whopper of a book to analyze in a classroom! And as much as I love to discuss books and ‘yap’ about this and that at book club meetings (Do you think the tulips were a symbol?? of the fleetingness of life? That spring always comes? the shape as a bowl or… uterus? what?!), I am more into the ‘oh – never thought of that’ fun rather than to belabor any ‘side’.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention! and the followup questions.

  8. I loved reading this! I read Handmaid’s Tale a long time ago and even though my memory of it is very fuzzy now I still consider it a fantastic book and one of my favorites. It was just something so different from anything I’d ever read.

    I’ve enjoyed a lot of Atwood’s books — Alias Grace and Cat’s Eye are two of my other favorites.

    Thank you! I just found Blind Assassin in bookmooch so that will be my next. I appreciate the sugs and am glad you enjoyed this post.

  9. Terrific answers … I think I speak for everyone when I say you deserve a round of applause for doing such a fantastic job with this.

    I have such a hard time dissecting and discussing Atwood’s writing, there are so many ways to interpret her words and there message.

    gosh, thanks.

  10. I think you did a great job with this post. I read this book a while back and I tried to think about what my answers would be. I don’t think I could have done it. Good job!

    Thanks (altho I’m starting to feel more than a little self-conscious – and also LOVING it! of course)

  11. Aww, that’s very sweet of you to say 🙂

    And it’s ok if you didn’t notice the reference to Philippines. It was just something that came out of the blue while I was typing my comment the last time 🙂 Atwood mentioned about the way the word “salvage” is understood here in the Philippines. Totally tiny part of the entire story. I think it’s Offred’s thoughts on being saved somehow and yet she recalled how the word “salvage” has a different connotation here mainly due to the effect of Martial Rule.

    Anyway, this is a really great post. I hope you read her other books as well – I pretty much enjoyed her other stories but like you I’ve yet to read The Blind Assasin. Alias Grace is really lovely though.

    THANK YOU! I totally missed the reference to the salvage definition. Thanks for asking and coming back to tell me more.

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