Profoundly disturbing and beautifully terrifying. Not a book to enjoy, but to digest.
I think that the reason that this book is so frightening is that it seems as though it could actually happen. Despite the leaps and bounds women's rights have made over the past century, this doesn't seem so out of this world. The whole regime seems to be justified by the need to protect women - to protect them from rape culture, from dark alleys, from doctors out to abort their precious babies. With rape culture still going strong (as we've seen recently in the news) and with abortion still being a very loaded topic, wouldn't it be just so easy to justify this?
And with our world in such a digital age, wouldn't it be so easy to implement? In the novel, women's bank accounts are cut off with a press of a button. Couldn't that happen in our world?
It certainly shook me up as a reader.
The narrator of our story, Offred, is a vague woman. You get thrown headfirst into this world that doesn't make sense, with terminology such as 'Angels' and 'Eyes'. She assumes you understand. Slowly but sure, throughout the narrative and through flashbacks to the 'before', we grow to understand what has happened. This happens so slowly, so steadily, that the true horror kind of creeps up on you.
It was irritating, though. Especially at first. I even had to look at Sparknotes to work out that Offred was talking about her daughter at certain points. I am all for readers having to work to get the most out of a book, but sometimes Atwood didn't give me a chance to understand. Perhaps it was too painful for Offred to talk about in anything more than vagueness.
Offred doesn't feel very fully formed as a character, but it makes sense because her personality has been stripped off her. She is anonymous - just another woman in red. She seems much more alive in the time 'before'. I kind of liked that about her. I also liked the fact that Luke, her partner from before, is not portrayed as saintly and all good, with hints that he even might have kind of enjoyed
what was happening. It makes you look sideways at your own partner and think 'how would they react to this?'.
Of course, there are some horrific scenes in the book, and it doesn't flinch away from that. The whole scene at the woman's salvaging was particularly hard to stomach.
And the end is, wow. Just... I hate it and love it at the same time. This is a vague ending done right. That's all I'm saying.
Perhaps one of my favourite parts of the novel was the historical notes at the end. I didn't realise they were actually part of the story at first, but wow. It just made everything more real. The ending I'm talking about above is not this, but the end of Offred's story, by the way. Just making that clear.
I really admire this book. So why only four stars?
Really, the vagueness I mentioned above, and the overall distance I felt from the narrator. It was told from the first person point of view of the main character; I should have felt closer to her. I guess Offred was intentionally distancing herself from her own tale as she told it, but still. It was hard going at times.
In conclusion, if you're in the mood for something that will make you really think, try this book. You won't regret it.