Wondering what book to pick up next? How about a modern classic about a woman struggling to survive and thrive in a oppressive society that polices her body, sexuality and reproductive system? You might have heard of The Handmaid’s Tale from English Literature class, must-read book lists or through it trending on Twitter, but regardless of whether this has been on your to-read list for ages or you’re hearing about it for the first time now, here are three great reasons to grab a copy of this dystopian masterpiece.
It’s An Emotive, Nail-Biting Read
First things first; this is just a really, really good book. The premise is deceptively simple; this is one woman’s tale of life in Gilead, the totalitarian state within what used to be the United States. In this world, with infertility a major problem, main society is split into the powerful male Commanders, their high ranking Wives and Daughters, male Soldiers and secret police Eyes, mature/infertile domestic servant women called Marthas and Aunts who educate and train the Handmaids. Handmaids are fertile women whose function is to bear children for the Wives. They are not allowed to read or write, and must wear a long shapeless red dress and a winged headdress that prevents them from being seen by others. They are forced to lie between the legs of a Wife whilst the Commander has sex. It is a life devoid of human dignity, intimacy and free choice. Offred, the main protagonist, was a woman living a normal life until one day the ruling power took away her rights and made her a Handmaid. The novel explores her last seeds of hope of escaping the soulless life she has been coerced into. With its first person perspective, and heart-wrenching reveals, this is a book that really hits the heart of the political being the personal.
It’s Terrifyingly Topical
From activists dressed as Handmaids protesting against anti-abortion bills at the Texan Senate to discussions on social media of the parallels between the world of Gilead and current-day USA, soaring sales makes it clear that this novel is as feminist and relevant as it was when it was written, if not more so.
It centres on a woman’s perspective, still something all too rare in literature, and is written by award-winning author, poet, environmental activist and teacher Margaret Atwood . It is so important to raise up, celebrate and share women’s voices, especially as bookshops and libraries are still dominated by works from male authors. Dystopian fiction in particular is overshadowed by (admittedly excellent) books from male authors, from Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, limiting many readers to a very particular interpretation of terrifying societal decline. Surely a dystopia written by someone who has experience of social oppression, be it as a result of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia or an intersection of persecuted identities will have even greater resonance as a warning of the slippery slope of society?
The themes of state intervention in bodily autonomy, and specifically limiting reproductive and sexual freedoms, is hauntingly familiar rhetoric coming from governments and those in positions of power at the moment, especially in the United States. The Handmaid’s Tale takes this to an extreme but logical conclusion, reminding readers that small acts of oppression lead to bigger losses of liberty.
The TV Adaptation Will Be Hitting Your Screens On 26th April
Starring the talented Mad Men star Elizabeth Moss as Offred and everyone’s new fav Samira Wiley as her non-compliant lesbian friend Moira (have you all seen the photos from Samira’s wedding to OITNB writer Lauren Morelli? They are the most radiant couple ever), this adaptation looks set to really capture the essence of the novel as well as playing up the troubling parallels with current society. Unfortunately only available on Hulu, hopefully this should be available on DVD or other services after its first release. It’s really exciting to see such subversive, feminist literature making it on to TV, especially at the moment. Watch the fantastically chilling trailer here: The Handmaid’s Tale Trailer
Words by Heidi Teague
The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.