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April 9, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Attwood

I found a second hand copy of The Handmaid's Tale in an Oxfam bookshop, for £2. Which seems a bargain for the first ever winner of the Arthur C Clarke award. The one reservation I had is the author herself, all the moaning about not being SF and the squids in space quotes put me off. But, it's the art not the artist that should be judged, so I forgot about how much Attwood has annoyed me and began to read.

The first thing that struck me was that the writing was wonderful. A literary style I guess, poetic, moving, consuming. The plot is slow, but hints at the world of the story pulled me in, hooked me in even. And piece by piece the setting for the story is revealed and the position that the main character is in becomes more obvious. I loved how the world-building was drip fed out naturally, that is how you should do it. It's a thoroughly believable, and quite scarily possible dystopian vision of America ruled by a rigidly strict theocracy, where the birth rate has fallen to such a level that Handmaid's are used for breeding. The background is filled in with emotional flashbacks retold by the narrator.

Just at the point where I was beginning to worry about there being a shortage of plot the narrator herself confesses to the story being lacking, about there being no dramatic escape. And that's when I realised that the story is in fact the perfect mirror of the Handmaid's tale, small things realised, nothing changing.

Then in the last quarter or so of the book there are revelations that the world is not so perfect, and strangely enough the hope is derived from the fact that there is corruption, that everything is not perfect and rigid.

The only negative is the historical notes section at the end of the book. Arggh an appendix, looking back on the novel as an historical event, with academic analysis. What? It feels like it's been put there for people who are too stupid to work out what has happened in the book.

So, ignore the appendix, and enjoy the rest of the book. It's great.