The Handmaid’s Tale

I think I heard about this book from perusing random blogs here on wordpress, and it sounded interesting.  The only book by Margaret Atwood that I had read before this book was The Penelopiad, which was brilliant.  This book was very interesting, and was very well written.

311 pages


Drama (my catchall category for books that don’t really fit anywhere specific, although I could easily call this book literary fiction)


The main character is named Offred and she is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilread.  She remembers life before she was a handmaid, but she has fallen into her role as a handmaid well, if for no other reason than because she doesn’t see any way out of her current situation.


The book is set in the Republic of Gilread, which is located in the northeastern part of the US.  There has been a major war which along with other factors has led to the human population being greatly reduced.  As an attempt to help overcome this, many women are now essentially living as slaves who are kept for the purposes of breeding.  Throughout the book, you find small bits of information that show what led to the world being this way.  The setting is very subtle, but it works.


Offred is going about her daily life, which consists of little more than a very boring routine.  She doesn’t see this as changing very much, and it doesn’t, until she receives a very strange invitation from her Commander.  This leads her to see more of what the world around her has become, even as she questions more of the rules in place.


A blurb on the back of the book mentions that this book is similar to Orwell’s 1984.  I can see the connection there, in large part because it’s a dystopian book with similar ideas of futility in fighting against the oppressive government.  Personally, I thought the book was very similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.  Both of these books were very subtle in how they showed the setting to the reader, even though the setting in both books was clearly the driving factor for everything that happened in the book.  This book also had a very extreme setting as compared to the present day, but it was actually very easy to see how they got to the situation they’re in.

Overall Grade

Very subtle in the storytelling, an interesting book.


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  1. Glad you enjoyed it. Did you know that Margaret Attwood has said that pretty much everything in her books has happened somewhere in the world at some point? She constructs plots by splicing together events she reads about around the world. Scary thought…

  2. I’ve never heard that about her books, but as I said, the way she sets up the book there are a series of events that make sense leading up to the situation they’re in. It was a neat book and I’m going to check out more of her books (I bought The Blind Assassin when I bought this book).

  3. I’ll have to look into this novel. I really enjoyed the book Never Let Me Go. I haven’t read any works by Attwood but this one sounds like something I would really enjoy.

  4. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my top 10 favorite books. It was my first experience with a dystopian novel–unforgettable.

  5. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale – if you’re struggle to fit it into a genre you might consider horror! The portrayal of how easily women are robbed of their liberation (and how little their male loved ones do to help them) is eerily plausible and makes for a scary prospect indeed.
    I’m not sure I’d agree that Offred is ever under any doubt about what her world has become, or comfortable in her new role, it’s more a case of feeling powerless to do anything about it. Her growing rebelliousness is a classic symbol of the whole women’s lib thing.
    At least that’s how I read it 🙂


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