The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
This is a story exploring what many of us may be beginning to fear – the future. I don’t mean a future of robots, technology, The Matrix, etc. But something much closer to home. Something more like what was explored in V for Vendetta – a hostile takeover that results in suppression and repression of individuals. The Handmaid’s Tale is following a woman in her early 30s (we actually never learn her real name), who tells us of what it’s like to live a life of emptiness. To go from having the freedoms that we have now, like being able to wear what we want, love whom we want, work how we want, etc. To being under the control of this organisation that has killed members of the government, but has used fears of terrorism to control the general public until they are able to shut down regions, and impose their rules and conditions on an individual’s way of life.
The major changes started with a new law: no woman could hold property. Their bank accounts were frozen, and could only be accessed if they were to transfer their money and property to a male partner, next of kin, or friend. This was so incredibly easy to do since noone used paper money, they used cards and computers (not far from what we do these days, right?)
Once the women were effectively debased, they then moved onto the men. The main theme seems to around sex/procreation. Those men without status and power, according to the new regime, weren’t allowed to have sex. If you were caught breaking these rules, you were killed. Just as this is the case with the women – you were caught, and you were killed. Sex was part of an intricate plan to rebuild the population. If men in power couldn’t produce children with their wives, they were provided with a handmaid who, as part of a ceremony, they would sleep with. Sex wasn’t love, or a part of a loving relationship. It was business.
It was the topic more than anything that had me continuing to read, as it was quite difficult to follow the story in the beginning. The narrative kept jumping between the past and present, various people she’d encountered, etc. I guess, when I think about it now, this was supposed to be a transcribed account of her past so, if this was reality, she probably would be jumping from one point to another. But, it just meant I had to give it a little more time to follow the story.
Despite not much really happening, it was very gripping tale. Just the fear for her when she began to rebel, learning what the consequences were for talking to anyone, never mind some of the more daring things she did later on… What I particularly found enlightening was Margaret writing about a tourist visiting the state where our character is. All women are wearing what would be considered a habit (hooded dress and veil to prevent anyone from seeing them), and how these asian tourists looked sexually provocative in their midlength skirts. She makes the comparison to how she had once been referred to as “westernised”. This change in thinking had happened in just a few years, and this narrative makes it quite clear how ‘easily’ things can change from what we know.
I think this book should be read by anyone willing to give it the time, if only to remind you of how damn lucky you are. Even if you don’t believe it right now, you actually are!