The Lovely Bones, I wanted something that was not depressing so I started reading Island: How Islands Transform the World by J. Edward Chamberlin. My thought was that a nonfiction book should be the opposite of depressing. Unfortunately I was having a really hard time reading it; I would get twenty pages in and have to stop. After this happened the second night, I reached over to my shelf and grabbed The Handmaid's Tale. And read 90 pages in one sitting!
Now make no mistake, from looking for a non-depressing book, The Handmaid's Tale was not a great choice. It tells the story of Offred, a woman of the Gilean Republic. Gilead is what became of the United States after some disasters destabilized the world. Part of the disasters is that many people (men I think?) have become sterile. So women of childbearing age have become handmaidens, or women who are present only in the hopes that they will get pregnant. There's a very clear household hierarchy, where the man's wife is ruler of the household; the wives only tolerate the presence of the handmaidens because they can no longer conceive themselves but they want babies. (I got the feeling that the wives in question were too old to be bearing children).
So Offred goes about her life, explaining what it has become but also remembering what it was like before, when she had her own name, and lived in the United States with her husband, daughter, and cat and was able to see her best friend Moira.
I really liked the juxtaposition between the two stories, particularly in the beginning. The beginning of the novel was so good. Unfortunately I felt like it started to fall apart a bit as it progressed because the plot isn't really that interesting. Offred's Commander starts inviting her into his rooms at night to play Scrabble (so illegal on many levels - he should not be alone with her, and she should not be using reading skills). He eventually invites her out to the Commander's "club" (it's very much one of those types of clubs with women everywhere in weird/skimpy costumes). There she is reunited with Moira for the evening. After that, the Wife has set her up to have sex with their hired hand Nick because the Wife really, really wants that baby. Offred starts having an ongoing affair with Nick, risking everything and also losing interest in a lot of the other aspects of her life (this was probably around when the story felt boring to me, plot-wise). Eventually she is whisked away, whether to a horrible fate or to freedom, we are not made to know.
Except that we know something: the end of the book has a lecture from the future, where professors have uncovered her story, which was left on cassette tapes. So she at least got away long enough to tell her story to someone (and to have it recorded). I thought the lecture was a really neat touch to end the book with.
The Handmaid's Tale really felt like something I should have read while I was in school (particularly in University). It's one of only two stories I've read so far by Margaret Atwood (the other two being "Bluebeard's Egg" and The Edible Woman). It feels oddly topical right now, with what is going on in the United States. It's an interesting story with some major flaws in its execution (as one reviewer pointed out on Goodreads, the setting makes no sense because the United States wouldn't go from the way it is today into a weird oppressive society in like a year's time). I think it was very much worth reading, but it is by no means a favourite book of mine.
Best of 2021 (so far)
4 days ago