If you were to ask me if I’d prefer a theater room or a library in my dream house, I’d choose a library every time. I’ve spent years buying books from used book stores and thrift stores, and maybe someday my wife and I will have enough to fill an entire room.
Lately, however, I’m finding that I’m adding more and more books to our collection that my wife is never going to read.
She still reads more books than I do, but there are topics that she chooses not to read about. Sadly, these same topics are ones that I feel make books powerful and emotionally moving.
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of these books.
There are other people who could describe the setting of the book better than I can, but here’s my best shot:
The United States government has been overthrown by religious extremists. Now called the Republic of Gilead, the former United States is a totalitarian society where women have no rights. They can’t own property, they can’t hold jobs, and – due to a major decrease in fertility – women who can have children are assigned as handmaids for couples who can’t have children of their own.
In an introduction by the author, Margaret Atwood writes about how she didn’t want to invent technology that didn’t already exist in real life, and she didn’t want to write about anything that hadn’t already happened in real life.
Even though the exact combination of events hadn’t happened in a particular place in history according to record, each individual part can be found somewhere in history.
The decrease in fertility, religious extremists overthrowing the government, women not having the right to own property, husbands using handmaids to have children, etc…
Books like The Handmaid’s Tale are interesting – at least for me – because they make me admit the reality that terrible things can happen no matter how much we tell ourselves they can’t.
They can happen. They have happened. They still happen.
In regard to how I feel about the quality of the book, I feel the setting was too good to try to squeeze into 295 pages. She created a fictional version of our world that I wanted more time to explore.
Yes, there is a sequel. However, it was written 34 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s set 15 years after the events in the first book, and it follows other characters – not Offred (The handmaid was given the name Offred in the book because the husband she was assigned to was named Fred. She belongs to Fred.)
Also, the story just ends suddenly. There’s no resolution.
I know there doesn’t always have to be a resolution, and it makes sense from an artistic point of view. Atwood explains that there are plenty of first-person records of people who have experienced terrible events, and occasionally something happens that prevents the writer from finishing. e.g. Anne Frank
The Handmaid’s Tale was written in that style. The narrator is experiencing this terrible event, and even though she isn’t necessarily a heroine destined to conquer evil, she’s sharing what she’s experiencing. However, it feels like a waste of such a good plot when it suddenly ends.