The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Today’s post is for reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale, one of those deep and meaningful books with themes and motifs and symbols that has managed to become so well regarded that it is now a school set text and even has a SparkNotes to its name. I have avoided reading it for years because I thought it was going to be dense and super intellectual, but after reading Lady Oracle and being reminded of how much I enjoy Margaret Atwood (and also of how easy her books are to read despite their literary merits) I decided to just jump in and try it whilst on holiday. I’m so glad I did. It wasn’t a bit like I had expected, and I can see now why Atwood is always so adamant that she doesn’t write science fiction. This isn’t science fiction, it’s a disturbing portrayal of how extremism, intolerance and ignorance could quite easily change the Western world as we know it beyond recognition if allowed to reign unchecked. I think that it’s an even more relevant text today than it was when it was written in the heyday of feminism, as our recent experiences with terrorism and religious fundamentalism gave this book a whole different slant for me.

The book is written as a series of diary entries by ‘Offred’, a Handmaid, or surrogate womb, living in the first years of the totalitarian religious state of ‘Gilead’, led by a movement of religious fundamentalists which has taken over the majority of America. Offred’s real name is June, but now she is a Handmaid, her name will be changed to reflect whichever man she currently belongs to, completely eradicating her independent existence and her identity. Before Gilead took over the running of the country, Offred lived happily with her husband and their daughter in an affluent suburb. She had a fairly good job, good friends, and a nice life. However, gradually the freedoms of the people began to become restricted as Gilead’s power strengthened, and one day Offred woke up to find her credit card has been stopped and she had been fired from her job. Women were no longer allowed to have an independent existence, and had to rely on men to give them money and shelter. From this day onwards, ever more frightening restrictions came  into force, prompting Offred and her husband Luke to try and escape the borders of Gilead. Unfortunately they failed in their attempt and were captured. As Luke was divorced before he married Offred, their relationship is not pure and they cannot stay together. Their daughter is adopted by an infertile ‘Commander’ and his wife, Luke is taken away from Offred, and Offred is assigned as a Handmaid in the new structure of permitted women’s roles, as she has proven fertile, and will be given to childless Commanders and their wives in order to provide them with children, as examples in the Bible dictate. There are plenty of childless couples about as there have been nuclear wars and this has affected many people’s fertility.

Offred’s new life is as a red clothed intruder in another couple’s house, living with them, having sex with the husband, and going out with another Handmaiden to do the shopping now and again. She is not allowed to read, not allowed to speak against the new system of government, not allowed to have sex with anyone other than the Commander she has been assigned to, and she is not permitted to go anywhere alone. Every movement and every word must be carefully governed; ‘Eyes’ are out on the streets, ready to report any misdemeanour to the authorities. Every woman’s biggest fear is of being declared ‘Unwoman’ and being sent to the colonies, where she will die within a few years of radiation sickness. Simply expressing frustration with the regime could result in such a fate, and if a Handmaiden doesn’t conceive after three placements in different Commander’s homes, she too will be declared Unwoman, and sent away to certain death. It is a world of fear, of surveillance, of restriction, and of hypocrisy. Women like Offred, who have been separated from husbands, partners and children, are the unlucky ones, the victims of the regime, told they are making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the generations to come, who would never have known a life other than one under Gilead rule.

But Offred doesn’t believe in the God of Gilead, and she doesn’t want to bear another woman’s child. She wants her own child back, her own husband, her own life. She can’t submit to the rules of a society that values fertility as the highest prize; that thinks women need to be protected from themselves, and from the lustful nature of man, by assigning them to set roles within the domestic spheres of life and not allowing them a life outside of it. Women are either Wives (of Commanders), Handmaidens, Aunts (women in authority over other women), Marthas (domestic servants) or Econowives (legal wives of men outside of leadership), and their value lies in the fruitfulness of their wombs. The Gilead regime believes that the women’s movement has made women predatory, too ambitious, too unwilling to have children, and by forcefully preserving their purity and restricting their opportunities outside of breeding and domesticity, they will right the wrongs of a postmodern world and restore harmony, with men ruling over women and women submitting to men.

It would be easier to live in Gilead if the leadership were not so hypocritical; it isn’t long before Offred’s Commander intices her into illicit activity, and he even takes her to a brothel that has been created just for Commanders, filled with women who didn’t make it into any of the other categories and were willing to be prostitutes rather than shipped off to the colonies. Commanders and their wives are allowed to read, to move freely, to own possessions and servants, and live their lives pretty much as they did before. By virtue of being one of the ‘chosen’ ones, their lives have changed little, while others, who did not profess to be religious before Gilead took over, have been trampled on and had their lives destroyed, in the name of peace, harmony, and love. People who rebel are publically hanged and pilloried, or sent away to die a slow death in the colonies. Babies who aren’t perfect at birth are disposed of. Anyone who isn’t as God intended is done away with, and people are not kept in line by devotion to God, but instead by fear of those who rule over them, who appear to have very little genuine love for God themselves. It is a frightening world that reduces humanity down to its basic functions, denying people the freedom to express themselves and trying to stamp out emotional connections between people. But as Offred shows, the spirit can never be destroyed, and she is determined to get out of Gilead, at any price.

This is a powerful, thought provoking and fascinating novel about extremism and all of its nonsensical hypocrisy and misguided, ignorant beliefs of male superiority. The Handmaidens must wear long dresses and hoods that cover every part of them apart from their faces, and that was an uncomfortable parallel with the burqas worn by Muslim women, raising for me quite a few comparisons with Gilead and Muslim countries, where religion and state are one and the same and women can be publically stoned for adultery. I am a practising Christian, so I am not anti religion by any means, but I do believe that when religious beliefs become enforced they become meaningless. Gilead’s society is one based on conservative Christian values developed from a painfully literal reading of the Bible without considering cultural context, and rather than creating a utopia, it has instead made a seemingly Godless world that is cruel, intolerant and merciless. The individual no longer matters; people must conform or be disposed of. It is frightening to think that we actually do have societies like this in our world today, that oppress women, that deny them the freedom of education and love, that kill women if they disobey their parents or shame their families, and ask them to live under cover in public, so as not to expose their bodies to scrutiny.

I am aware that as a white, Western woman, I have grown up in a culture so alien to Islamic ones that I don’t understand what it is like to live like that, and I am sure some women in these societies embrace this life and don’t feel oppressed by it. However, I have spoken with many educated women from these cultures who now live in England, and hearing about the struggle they had to go to just to be able to live an independent life makes me terribly sad. Extreme, intolerant thinking, no matter what the motive behind it, leads to nothing but misery and hatred. How those that profess to love God can be so cruel to other people in His name is beyond me. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale in 2010, not long before the fifth anniversary of the bombings in London that killed 52 innocent people, carried out by men who thought Western society was an aberration, made me quite disturbed actually, as really, this isn’t a dystopian novel at all. It reflects how many people live, and what many people believe, right now. Atwood gives much food for thought in this excellently written, provocative novel; if you’re also horrendously late to the party on this, I highly recommend that you give it a go.


  1. Interesting and timely reading of this, Rachel. The terrifying thing about most dystopias is that they often have a basis in truth and not outwith the realms of everyday possibility.

    I am so pleased that you finally read this and enjoyed it; I must reread it at some point.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Claire! I am pleased I finally read it, too – it’s one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and it feels good to have it under my belt at last. 🙂 You are exactly right – I haven’t read much dystopian fiction, I have to say, and I did find this far more disturbing than I thought I would.

  2. KarenV says:

    Thank you for this review. I have this book but haven’t read it yet. After seeing your review, I’m going to get to it soon, hopefully this summer.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks for coming by, Karen! I’m glad you enjoyed the review and I would strongly recommend you read it soon – I regret putting off reading it for as long as I did!

  3. Laura says:

    Excellent review, Rachel! My daughter is reading this book right now, as a summer assignment for one of her courses next year. She’s finding it an interesting read, and I will share this review with her when she has finished the book.

    I’m one of those horrendously late to the party, but it’s one of those books I’ve wanted to read for quite a while and plan to do so in the coming months.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Laura! I sort of wish I’d read this at school…I’d have liked to go more deeply into it, pick it apart a bit, but alas…I just had my own brain!

      I hope you read it…you and your daughter could discuss it together!

  4. savidgereads says:

    A wonderful review once again Rachel of a rather marvellous book.

    A Handmaid’s Tale was my first foray into the world of Atwood when I chose it (because I had been told for years and years by my mother that I MUST read it) for a book group I was in before The Riverside Readers. It was just mind blowing in terms of her dystopian vision, all made more compelling because you could actually believe it might happen!

    I think its a book that should be made compulsory to read hahaha.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Simon – it is indeed a brilliant book and I’m glad your mum made you read it! Exactly – that’s what makes it so fantastic!

  5. diane says:

    Wow..that is a different cover. I enjoyed this book a lot when I read it in January. Excellent review.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Diane! It is a fun cover isn’t it?! I have a jazzy 80’s version myself!

  6. Chrissy says:

    Thanks for this admirable summary of The Handmaid’s Tale!

    I read it a year or so ago and was thoroughly frightened and emotionally drained by it. I think it must be the bleakest book I’ve ever read – but so worthwhile. I think M A gets better and better, she is quite unique.

    Lovely to find a blog like this. I clicked on The Rector’s Daughter while listening to a reading on Radio 4 – and found booksnob. So glad I did!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Chrissy – she does indeed, and I love how consistent her writing is. She hasn’t written a bad book to my knowledge!

      I’m glad you found me too! How wonderful to have a new reader!

  7. Teresa says:

    I read this years ago (it was my first Atwood) and was blown away by it. I really must read it again. One thing you don’t mention, but that pleased me immensely about the book, is that Atwood does include religious characters/groups that do not buy into the whole structure of Gilead. I believe it was the Baptist and the Quakers who ran a sort of underground railroad to help the handmaidens escape. That struck me as smart writing, because it became clear that this wasn’t an anti-religion screed, but more anti-oppression, anti-intolerance.

    I am curious about your comment that this isn’t science fiction. I’m not sure I would categorize it as science fiction either but that’s not because of its depth–science fiction can be incredibly complex and tackle heavy issues. The only reason I wouldn’t call it science fiction is that it doesn’t seem like science is part of the world-building formula here; it’s more about politics, religion, and sociology. (Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood feel like science fiction to me, though, as do parts of Blind Assassin, and I wish Atwood weren’t quite so adamant in her rejection of the term.)

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes – I had forgotten that part, thank you for reminding me. I was pleased too about the fact Atwood didn’t make Christianity a blanket ‘bad’ thing. At first I wondered where she was going and whether I was going to end up offended but she handled the religious aspects incredibly sensitively and as you say, made it more about general intolerance and oppression.

      I don’t consider this science fiction because to me science fiction is a world totally alien to the one we live in, with scientific advances etc we could never have in our lifetimes. I didn’t think The Handmaid’s Tale had any of those things. Atwood seems to be very anti science fiction when she describes her work and I wonder whether this is because she doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into what is a rather niche genre that gets little critical attention these days.

  8. Deb says:

    A harrowing book–but don’t think Islam is the only place where fundamentalism means that women are oppressed. Here in the States we have what is called “the quiver-full movement” (Google it) where ultra-fundamentalist Christians have the biggest families a woman’s body can possibly sustain. There’s a show on here called “19 and Counting” about one such family. What irks me is everything is presented in such an amusing light–oh, they have to buy 19 pairs of shoes when they go shoe shopping! Not once does anyone ask what the emotional price is to those kids and the physical price to the mother.

    BTW, I am a happy wife and mother and a regular Churchgoer, but the idea that a woman’s value is based on how many children she can pop out is repugnant to me.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Of course – this sort of fundamental Christianity isn’t as big here as it is in the US so examples of that didn’t immediately come to mind, so thank you for raising this, Deb! I actually used to work in a library next door to a family like this, and the girls had to cover their heads and wear long skirts. The mum was perpetually pregnant – there were 12 kids and counting by the time I stopped working there, and she planned on having as many kids as ‘God blessed her with’. Frighteningly the girls didn’t go to school, were groomed for early marriages, and none of the kids were allowed to read fiction, in case they read anything that went against their parent’s extreme beliefs. I felt like hitting the mum round the head with a common sense stick. Having tons of kids is why so many women died before they were 50 until contraception came along. I don’t understand how they can genuinely believe that having 19 kids is what God wants for them, and for their children.

      What upsets me about fundamental Christians and other extreme versions of religions is that it’s always women who suffer. Men get to do exactly what they want, and women get to sit in the kitchen and breed. I really don’t think that’s what God intended.

  9. This was the first Atwood I ever read, ten years ago now. I remember finishing it in the middle of the night during summer vacation and being so disturbed and unable to sleep that I woke up my friend who was on vacation with me and ranted to her for several hours about it. She started reading it the next morning. For both of us, it became one of those books that fundamentally changes the way you view the world, shaping our attitudes towards feminism and interesting us in the topic for the first time. I’m not sure any book since has had quite as strong an impact on me.

    I agree that it’s not really a Science Fiction novel but it’s also the first book that ever interested me in Science Fiction, particularly in those books that deal with the roles of women in post-Apocalyptic societies.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Wow what a reaction! How wonderful that this formed so much of you and your friend’s thoughts on such important issues. I think this really is a powerful text in showing how much prejudice against women there still is and how much there is wrong with the world, and I think if I’d read this at university it would have propelled my own emerging interest in feminism.

      What sorts of books would you recommend that deal with the roles of women in Post-Apocalyptic societies? I haven’t read much in this vein but I’d like to explore further if you could give me some pointers!

  10. I felt the same sense of dread and trying to catch my breath after reading your review that I felt the first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale when it was first printed, Rachel. What frightens me more than the fundamentalism and terror we see today is that which we don’t see. That which creeps up on us and catches us unawares, even if it was right before our noses. I originally found The Handmaid’s Tale to be a cautionary story – a warning of sorts.

    It has been many years since I read this. Isn’t there a scene with a stoning in it? The women are made to watch and then descend upon the victim? Let me know if I am missing the boat on this. I was thinking of it lately as we have heard on the news and in our papers of a woman waiting such a fate in Iran right now.

    Your review is “right on” and I appreciate it and that it is from new and fresh eyes.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thank you Penny, I’m always grateful for your generous and thoughtful comments! You are so right, and that is the exact sort of extremism Atwood describes.

      Yes there is a scene like that – I don’t think the person is stoned, I think the women are just let loose on the man and they basically kick and punch him to death. He killed a pregnant woman and with pregnancies being so rare all of the women felt it as a crime that was disgusting and deserving of such violence. Most unpleasant, and yes, it does have some unsettling parallels with recent events in Iran. I can’t believe that the poor woman was almost stoned to death.

  11. JoAnn says:

    Another excellent review, Rachel! This was my first Atwood when I read it about 25 years ago. It’s definitely time for a reread.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks JoAnn! 25 years?! Wow – definitely time for a reread!

  12. Penny says:

    I read this book to keep my daughter company when she was studying it at university. It is such a chilling and harrowing story, one of those where ‘enjoy’ doesn’t seem the right word, but it stays with you, probably forever. I thought of American Fundamentalist Christians when I read it, but thought that The Handmaid’s Tale was taking it quite a lot further. However, on reading Deb’s comment… Wow! Words have now failed me…

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes exactly – I always feel uncomfortable saying I enjoy books when I think that they are great books, but unsettling reads at the same time. It’s an unpleasant pleasant experience I suppose! Deb’s comment is so pertinent – I wish I had thought of it myself as I would have loved to have explored that within the context of the book!

  13. Emily Jane says:

    This is one of my favorite books, and the only Atwood I’ve read so far, though I just picked up a used copy of Cat’s Eye.

    This was a wonderful review, thank you.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hi Emily Jane, it’s lovely to see a new face! I’m glad this is a favourite of yours and that it’s prompted you to find more Atwood- Cat’s Eye is on my TBR pile and I hope to get to it soon. Lady Oracle is very good as well if you happen to spot that!

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

  14. Chrissy says:

    I rate Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin very highly, especially the latter. Emily Jane has so much reading pleasure to come!

    Have you ever read everything from a past author and felt sad that there is no more to follow? I’m thinking of Rosamond Lehmann, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen… I leave a couple of years between their books and re-read.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes The Blind Assassin is brilliant! I have Alias Grace yet to come…I’ve had it on my shelf for years but never got around to it…soon!!!

      Yes…Jane Austen is my chief sadness, along with Charlotte and Anne Bronte! I haven’t read all of the women authors you mention yet precisely because I don’t want to be without new books to explore! Rosamund Lehmann especially, as she is one of my favourites and reading her books is always a real delight. Have you ever read any Dorothy Whipple? Her books are beyond a treat and I haven’t dared open the two remaining ones I have yet as I don’t want to finish her novels!

  15. Great book, great review. I just re-read this past January and re-realized how wonderful it is.

    I agree with the comment by Life on the Cut Off. Sometimes incremental change can sneak up and create oppression that is harder to because it was arrived at in seemingly rational ways.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Thomas, I glad you enjoyed the review! I think this is a book I will definitely be coming back to in the future.

      Yes, exactly – it’s frightening, isn’t it, how normal and rational totalitarian regimes started out. Rather like Nazi Germany, I suppose.

  16. James Lomax says:

    Hmmm. Well I have to say this is one I did not like. My overall impression was a kind of wallowing in emotion, indulging in sentiment, and a cloying going on and on about little of substance.

    I think I read Cats Eye, then tried HT but got so fed up decided not to finish it: not in a lost interest kind of way, but in a don’t want to read this kind of way.

    Not too keen on Austen and the Brontes, for similar reasons.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Ha! Not one for the female pour it out on the page emotional sort of novel then James?! I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. I think Atwood’s novels (the ones I’ve read anyway) all have a strong feminist leaning so perhaps that’s why you don’t enjoy them. Austen and the Brontes, too, I can understand. They’re two of my favourite writers but I know many people who find them dull and overwrought. Variety is the spice of life!

      1. James Lomax says:

        Hey don’t get me started. Spicy cakes are nice. Sugary cup cakes, followed by sugary cup cakes, followed by sugary cup cakes, are not. Ahem. Now where’s that Hemingway gone….

  17. Chrissy says:

    I haven’t read a thing by Dorothy Whipple and will order something at once from Amazon (I go for books at 1p usually). Where should I start though?

    I suspect this is a difficult question to put to you!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Chrissy! You are in for such a treat! I would recommend you start with Someone at a Distance; it is quintessential Whipple and if you love that, you’ll love everything. Persephone Books has republished four of her novels now and a volume of short stories, so you will be spoilt for choice. Personally my favourite to date has been Greenbanks but it’s terribly hard to find and eye wateringly expensive -try your library!

      When you’ve read your first Whipple you must tell me how you got on – it’s so wonderful being able to recommend her to a new reader!

  18. Sarah says:

    This is a stunning novel, and it gets better every time you read it.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Then I must reread it soon!!

  19. bookgazing says:

    I must re-read this one soon, it seems I’ve forgotten so much of the detail. It made a very strong impression on me at the time, but Cat’s Eye and Oryx and Crake seem to remain more in my mind.

    I agree that this one isn’t sci-fi, although it’s dystopian, but I do wish Atwood wouldn’t keep reminding us how much she doesn’t want to be called a sci-fi writer. It’s undeniable that Oryx and Crake at least is very influenced by sci-fi, even if the sci-fi included in it isn’t full of technical detail. And every time she says she doesn’t write sci-fi she’s just pushing all her sci-fi orientated fans away from her – much better to say she’s not only writing sci-fi, or that she’s writing books with elements of sci-fi in them.

    If you haven’t already read it (and I haven’t already recommended it like a billion times) a great companion novel to this is ‘The Carhullan Army’ by Sara Hall. It take an alternative look at a systopian situation where women aren’t given control of their reproduction (birth control is enforced, but this leaves women just as abused and powerless as if birth control had been denied them).

    1. bookssnob says:

      That happens to me often – I couldn’t tell you what happened in The Blind Assassin any more – I must reread that.

      Yes I do think Atwood has alienated quite a few people by implying that sci fi is a somewhat inferior form of fiction that she doesn’t want to be associated with. There’s nothing wrong with having sci fi elements in literary fiction! I haven’t read Oryx and Crake (yet) so I look forward to discovering just how sci fi she really is!

      Thanks for that recommendation – it sounds very interesting indeed. I shall check it out!

  20. Catie says:


    Just started reading your blog recently and am loving it!

    I put off reading this for ages too, but had to for a uni course and loved it. It’s always nerve-wracking picking up a new Margaret Attwood book, while I love The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin I am less keen on Cats Eye and Alias Grace, so I’m never sure which way it will go.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Catie – it’s a pleasure to see a new face and I’m glad you’re enjoying reading my blog!

      Yes I agree – it’s a nerve wracking experience as you’re never quite sure what you’re going to find, but I must say, of all her books I’ve read, I’m yet to be disappointed. Saying that though I have several more left to read!

  21. Mrs.B. says:

    I thought this was an excellent novel as well. I recommended it to my book club but one person had seen the film and was very turned off by it. I haven’t seen it so I wonder if the film does the book justice.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Astrid! That’s a shame – literary adaptations rarely hold candles to a book so I never judge a book by its film! I haven’t seen the film either but it’s not the sort of thing I would have thought would translate well. Maybe it was a bit sensationalised. We shall have to watch it and find out!

  22. thefriande says:

    I was at the library today, literally holding this book and trying to decide if I should borrow it or not. Whilst I heard great things about it, I thought the story might be a harrowing and confronting read, something that I wasn’t really in the mood for.
    I think my initial impression was right, but you nevertheless convinced me to give it a go.

    Also, loved your point about how when religion becomes enforced, it loses all meaning.

    Great review!

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m glad I have convinced you to have a go, and thanks for coming by! It is a harrowing and confronting read, but it is also a fascinating, compelling and page turning read, so you do get a reward for your pains. 😉 I hope you are enjoying reading it.

      Thank you!

  23. Chrissy says:

    I never watch films or TV series of my very favourite books for fear of losing the pictures I’ve made in my head. It seems nowadays that any new successful book could become the next big film.

    I did break my own rule not long ago and saw The Time Traveller’s Wife – out of curiosity, I suppose, wondering how they would handle it. I wish now that I hadn’t. It wasn’t one of my ‘best’ books but I had enjoyed the novelty of it. The film disappointed me.

    1. bookssnob says:

      This is a good move – I am very selective about what adaptations I will see as I hate to have books ruined for me. My exception is Jane Austen as there are so many adaptations, and I read the books so young, that I never lose my own impression of the characters.

      The Time Traveller’s Wife film was awful in my opinion. I went to a talk with Audrey Niffenegger when Her Fearful Symettry was first published and she said she hadn’t watched the film and didn’t intend to so obviously she disapproved.

  24. chasing bawa says:

    This was my first book by Atwood and wasn’t what I expected at all. I think I was going through a phase of reading Aldous Huxley and George Orwell which made you question your role in society and free will, so it was particularly interesting to read something which brought in the role of women and fertility. I have to say it was very disturbing and made me, like so many others, question the roles given to us by society. I also loved The Blind Assassin which I read next. She’s a wonderfully sharp writer.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes I think this is really quite unique in books of this genre in that the role of women and reproduction is put to the foreground, and the treatment of women is what makes it dystopian.

      I remember very much enjoying The Blind Assassin but not much more than that! Time for a reread. I 100% agree – a real talent.

  25. Carina says:

    I read this one a few years ago as part of a university course, but am going to be re-reading it soon as part of a read-a-long. I totally agree with you about this novel being a critique of conservative religion – but I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the correlations you made between it and Islam. Yes, I agree that some Muslims (particularly men) try to force women to cover up with the burqa or the veil or whatever, but not all women who are covering are doing so because they are coerced. There are a lot of muslimahs who decide to wear the veil (in any of its forms) in part because they are reclaiming the tradition in the face of pressure from Westerners to “break free of the veil”, which they see as being just as coercive, particularly when it comes largely from white Christians.

    Anyways, I do think that HT can be a useful critique of certain Muslim societies, but only as much as I think it is a critique of the ultra-conservative Christian movements like the ones in the United States. I don’t really think that it can be interpreted in a blanket way regarding all Muslim-majority countries, is all … that’s taking it a bit far.

    Moving on.

    I really loved this book, for much the same reasons as you did. I think that it’s a fabulous critique of what our world could become if conservative, fundamentalist religious people of certain religions got their way, and I suspect that it will remain relevant for quite some time, in quite a variety of contexts.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hi Carina, thanks for your thoughts. I did actually say that I’m sure many Muslim women willingly cover up as a reflection of their own beliefs, and I have read plenty of accounts of Muslim women who do this – I don’t for a minute think that all Muslim women have been forced into living the lives they do, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression!

      And yes, as I said in the comments, I do think that all religion when taken too far can be restrictive and oppressive, but my main reason for comparing the book with Islam is because of the headscarves and full body coverage worn by the Handmaids, which reminded me more of Islam than of Christianity. However I am well aware of how restrictive many Christian denominations can be and I didn’t mean to give the impression that Islam is all bad and Christianity all good – I apologise if that’s how it came across!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the book too and I agree – definitely a text that will become more and more relevant as our society becomes more extreme in several contexts.

  26. kiss a cloud says:

    I’ve been avoiding this book like the plague even if I’ve read some Atwood that I loved because of the word “dystopian”. I’m not a dystopian novel fan, but it seems like you’re the one to convince me to pick it up because of your last paragraph.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I hope I have convinced you Claire – I don’t tend to enjoy ‘dystopian’ fiction either, but this didn’t feel obviously like ‘dystopian’ fiction at all – I was so swept along in the story of Offred that the dystopianness of the world she lived in was just background noise really. Do give it a go, I think it would really appeal to you!

  27. Kate says:

    This was the first Atwood I read. I snagged my (older) sister’s copy the year she was reading it for school (it’s required reading for English here). I remember being absolutely blown away, not just by the story but by how immediate and intensely personal the danger felt. It was one of those novels that came along about the time I was forming feminist roots, and it fed the thoughts and ideas I’d been trying to express. It sounds like it has for you, too, especially in terms of religious intolerance today.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, though, and I’d be interested in revisiting it.

  28. dwarfgoose says:

    Dear Book Snob, am so allergic to Margaret Atwood that I can’t even read your post however much I enjoy your others. I tried The Blind Assassin and could not go beyond a few chapters, same with another warmly recommended to me. I find her pretentious rambling on the radio about money or poetry drive me round the bend. It is a physical allergy, as if she were creeping up on me with her unauthentic voice. She has all the right political ideas, she is a member of the Greens. I just don’t know why I hate her so much. Mrs Goody Two Shoes. I feel like tearing her high heels off her and pushing her over the cliff of all her P.C tall stories. She just travels into furrows that people will agree with.

  29. Cat says:

    I usually love your book reviews but was quite surprised when reading this. Your post comes across as Islamophobic and I would like to
    gently suggest that you consider rewording some parts of it. Not all Muslim countries are extremist and there are many, many Muslim women who are not oppressed. There are so many myths and hostilities against Muslim women and so many complexities.You present a very white view of the world in your reviews , I’ve noticed you nearly only read books by white women and one of the only times you did read otherwise (Toni Morrison) you dismissed it almost immediately as too bleak.

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