The Handmaid’s Tale

It’s a sign of the times, I imagine; but apparently classic dystopian novels are selling like hot cakes just now – 1984, Brave New World, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’ve only just got round to reading. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long. I’m a great fan of cerebral Sci-Fi, and my favourite Sci-Fi writer is another woman, Ursula Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness (featuring gender-shifting humanoids), and The Dispossessed. A movie version of The Handmaid’s Tale is coming out in April. I mistook it for another film showing in Stockholm just now, The Handmaiden, which isn’t the one. Luckily I found that out before I bought the tickets. It’s an ‘erotic, psychological drama set in Japan’. At my age, I can give that a miss.

The Handmaid’s Tale is extraordinarily good at drawing the reader into Atwood’s frightening world of women cultivated merely as wombs, under a claustrophobically totalitarian regime run according to Mayflower Puritan – or Christian Taliban – rules. (This is Le Guin’s great virtue, too: her ability to convey complete empathy with totally alien societies. Is it a woman thing?) I found myself immersed, almost drowned, in Atwood’s world. And I’m a man.

In one way, however, I found it slightly dated politically – as if that matters. Religious tyranny might have seemed the most likely form of fascism in 1980s America, when the book came out; but it would seem to have little in common with our present nationalist, nativist, populist and anti-rational kind. I suppose the sexism in the book might ring a bell; and if you think that pussy-grabbing is an essential aspect of modern-day Trumpery, which I’m prepared to hear argued, you may find the book resonates. But any religious aspect to most of our modern American and European proto-fascisms – apart from the ‘pro-life’ thing in middle America – escapes me for the moment. Of course, it could come; and The Handmaid’s Tale may be looked back on in the future as just as prescient as 1984 seems today. In any case, it blew me away.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s