Monday, January 28, 2013

Cold Dystopian Fare

I just finished The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood. It's a dystopian novel set in what used to be America. Atwood's writing style is compelling enough to have kept my interest despite the serious creep factor. This book reminded me of both Little Bee (high creep factor) and Life and Death in Shanghai by Cheng, which I read about 2 decades ago. Life and Death is all about the Cultural Revolution in China and Little Bee is about multinationals and the little people who are crushed by them. Le Guins's power of Naming (The Wizard of Earthsea) plays a role here, too. As an aside, I find it fascinating that the second job Adam is assigned is naming and yet secular, read non-Biblically informed- authors understand the power of it.
The Handmaid's Tale was creepy because it has the feel of reality to it. Cultural revolutions do happen, precious people are used, abused and discarded- collateral damage, and evil has and does prevail.

Was this a good read? I'm not sure. It was compelling and seems to have made it to my on-line books clubs "must reads" for the season. Which is to say book club peer pressure works. The writing style is brilliant. Constant word play and double entendre- which is woven throughout the book as part of the conversation the protagonist has with herself- is actually a plot device subtly interwoven into the protagonists character. My inner lit nerd swoons at Atwood's cleverness and ability.

Supposedly this is a book about how the likes of  Schlafly and others, who stridently wave the banner of Return to Biblical Womanhood, have wrongly influenced a culture. In other words, it's about how Biblical Womanhood has failed women, a culture and a nation.  But I don't think it's really about that at all. I think it's a manifesto decrying the birth dearth and porn and abuses of power. It's about loss of freedom and choice and literacy. It's about tyranny and how men, and women, collude to exclude decency and love.

A fascinating, bleary dead of winter read.


Natalie said...

Amazing! I should just put a link on my review to your review! You are much more eloquent.
Yes, the creep factor was high, but that's what kept me hooked. Sometimes I'd have to put the book down and walk away, or talk to my husband about it. Some of the scenes were a little TOO disturbing, but overall I really enjoyed it.

InnaC said...

Thank you for this review.
I was on the fence about reading the book and now I feel that it's definitely not a good read for me. I tried Little Bee and while the writing was incredible, I just could not stomach the content.

LaughingLioness said...

Natalie- thank-you! It was fascinating, wasn't it?

Inna- Little Bee is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read! This isn't as bad because it's not quite as violent, but it is very repressive! Glad the review helped you to decide about it ; )