December 2016: We read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I’ve read this book at least two times prior to this. I was itching to read it again, and certainly itching to talk about it. It still a timely story in our political climate. Some books speak prophecy in that way, like Parable of the Sower and 1984. Another reason Handmaid is timely and I wanted to revisit it: there’s a miniseries coming out soon that looks dark and beautiful.
SPOILER ALERT: I will talk some details, of the middle, of the endings. Stop here if you don’t wanna know. Also, if you haven’t read it yet, you may be lost…
I knew all the tricks Margaret Atwood snuck in, or so I thought. One huge surprise I had this time around, a face-slap worthy moment, was when I discovered the Historical Notes at the end of the novel. In my previous two reads I missed them. HOW?
(This time around I also realized Offred’s name in “the before” was June. I didn’t realize it until the meeting, as my fabulous book club buddies are careful readers.)
With a simple device, these Historical Notes, Atwood adds another layer to her novel, one that casts it in a new light. All of these memories and insights and records of Offred’s life, or June’s life, were recorded on cassette tapes in no apparent order. This little detail that we don’t get until the end, did it change anything for you when you read it?
For me, it gave June a future. A fuzzy one, but at least one that ended in some act of bravery, of her taking her own life back by the throat. Maybe she doesn’t get far. Maybe she’s caught, returned, made an example. Maybe she escapes and finds her mother, or goes on to rescue her child.
During our book club meeting we wondered how Margaret Atwood wrote Handmaid, in what order.
During our book club meeting we wondered about novel’s organization, its shifting back and forth in time. What order did Margaret Atwood write Handmaid’s Tale in, we wondered. So I tweeted her. (Why not? She an active Twitter-er.) A few hours later, she answered, and I geeked:
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? Margaret Atwood, you’re a true gem, and one hell of a writer. After book club several of us were hyped up for Handmaid’s Tale tattoos. We’ll see if that happens…
Since giving birth myself, I’m starting to catalogue books I read that have BIRTH SCENES. And oh, this book has a good one.
Favorite quotes from The Handmaid’s Tale:
“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
“I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.”
“You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter. I want to be with someone.”