Blook Back: The Handmaid’s Tale

I was curious to read a work of dystopian fiction that dwelled in a deeper way on the fragility of women’s rights. Atwood’s prose is highly emotional — she adeptly elicits empathy from the reader with flashbacks to the narrator’s former, seemingly pedestrian life. The structure of the narrative turns the story’s events into a second-hand account, where we’re steeped in the narrator’s fear and hopes. In this way, she draws you into her dark theocratic future.

I don’t think, however, that this Gilead society she creates really breathes with its own inner life. Instead, it seems animated by her compulsion to make a statement about religious fundamentalism and the peculiar nature of second-wave feminism that would align itself with the religious right to protect women from society and themselves.

Nowhere is the claim made that her world is the likeliest of future worlds, so I can’t hold her responsible for that, but with her insistence that this is SPECULATIVE fiction and not SCIENCE fiction, plausibility does have to become a factor and I don’t think Gilead has it.

Is a government clampdown following some indeterminate attack on the country possible? Absolutely. It’s likely, if anything. But once birthrates begin to decline for whatever reason, why would society revert to neo-puritanism, stripping women of all their rights? Why would that be the first thing to go? I don’t think the logic there was every adequately explained.

Perhaps that’s why I have to give the book three stars. Lacking is it was in the end of a true cathartic moment, I was hoping there would at least be a takeaway message that I could carry away from this work. Unfortunately, the implausibility of it all seems to have robbed me of that opportunity.

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