“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

We are simply going to ignore the fact that I haven’t posted a review since February.

atwoodIf you haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, stop everything you’re doing and go read it. I’m serious. I love this book. This is my second time reading the dystopian novel, and it was just as good as the first. Written in 1985, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t exactly hot off the presses, but a surprising amount of people I know haven’t heard of it. Now you don’t have an excuse.

Atwood’s novel takes place in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the near-future. Society as we know it has collapsed and a new military has taken over, fueled by extreme religious motives that begin integrating their way into society slowly, at first, and then flipping the world upside down. In this new society, women are expected to go back to their original biblical purpose of existing only to be at the disposal of men. In this new society, women have been made barren from chemicals in the air, nuclear disasters, and sexually transmitted diseases, so those who have the ability to conceive are collected and re-educated into Handmaids, who will repopulate the Republic of Gilead. Those unable to conceive are declared Unwomen and sent away. Those who are lucky are made Wives of Commanders, but they are few and far between.

Offred, a Handmaid and our narrator and protagonist, exists for one sole purpose: to conceive. She lives under the control of her Commander and once monthly endures his visits in hopes she may become pregnant and avoid being declared an Unwoman. Like all handmaids, she is forced to wear long red dresses and white winged habits that block her vision and prevent her from seeing her surroundings in her cruel world. She lives a life in which she has no rights. Her name is not even her own, literally meaning Of Fred, taking the name of her Commander.

As we learn about Offred’s world and life in Gilead, we discover that this frightening dystopia is not far off from the present. Offred remembers a time where she had her own family, her own job, and a happy life where women were equal to men.

While many might think that this book sounds a little too far-fetched and feminist to be taken seriously, for me it shows just how quickly things can really go south. In a matter of a few years, everything Offred knows is taken from her and her life is completely changed. While the premise might sound impossible to those of us living the privileged life in the Western world, Atwood makes a point to keep things real by ensuring that all the events that have happened in the Republic of Gilead have also happened, at some point, in real life. If you’re looking for a good read that’s beautifully written and a bit of a reality check, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is definitely for you.

4.5/5

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“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian

gbmm6lnThe Road by Cormac McCarthy has some seriously mixed reviews on Goodreads. This surprises me, considering it’s won several awards and was made into a movie in 2009. You’re probably like, “why are you reviewing a book that was published 10 years ago? Who even cares?” Whatever, dude. I’ve never read it, it always pops up on different book recommendation websites and threads on reddit and on my “Recommended for You” in the Kindle Store, so why not. Here’s what I thought of The Road:

I definitely should not have finished this book in the middle of class. This book is, in my opinion, more horror than post-apocalyptic fiction. It tells the story of a nameless man and his nameless son traveling south in a version of our world completely devoid of life. Some horrifying event has left the Earth scorched, lifeless, and covered in ash so thick the days blend into the nights. Animals and plants are no longer able to survive. Few humans are left, and the ones who are aren’t the kind you want to be friends with. There you have the basic plot. The story is simple but the events that took place left me both horrified yet hoping that somehow the man and the boy would find a way to persevere. To continue “carrying the fire,” so the man would say.

I’m typically the kind of person that likes more prose-y writing, so this book really did it for me. I know a lot of people aren’t into the whole poetic, minimalist writing style. If that’s not your thing, you might have a hard time with this book. The dialogue can sometimes be difficult to follow due to the lack of punctuation, often apostrophes are left out and quotations are gone entirely. I’m totally cool with that. I think it makes me pay more attention, figure out what’s happening, which character is feeling what. It did get confusing at times. The Road redeems itself in this aspect with the descriptions McCarthy provides. Even though the world he’s describing is completely horrifying, it’s beautifully written.

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it”

I loved The Road and I hated The Road. I loved the prose-like feel of it and I thought while the story was relatively simple it kept me engaged the whole time, and I hated it because it made me want to cry. Like I said, I shouldn’t have finished this book in the middle class. It left me depressed and horrified, which is exactly what I wanted it to do.

Rating: 5/5