Mon 1 Dec 2008
[Hello, readers! I hope all of you (at least, in the US) had a great Thanksgiving weekend! Now we're back to our regular review schedule.]
Margaret Atwood doesn’t write science fiction or speculative fiction; that, of course, is a genre, and what she writes is high lee-tra-cha. Yeah, whatever. A book set in a near-future dystopia is a very common spec-fic trope, and in the mid-to-late ’80s, she sure as heck wasn’t the first one to write one. She wasn’t even the first one to write one and call it literature. Therefore, I’m reviewing this book as speculative fiction, not a Great Work of Literature. Born in 1939, she has won a good deal of literary prizes (including the Arthur C. Clarke Award) and has taught at a great number of universities. She also writes poetry, some of which has also won awards. Currently she is working on the libretto for a chamber opera, to be produced in Toronto, hopefully sometime in the next couple years.
Our unnamed narrator is a Handmaid; she wears all red, except a white wimple of sorts; she is barely allowed to talk to anyone, and we are unclear as to what she actually does until quite late in the book. It turns out that because she has already born one child who lived and who had no health issues, she is expected to be a surrogate mother of sorts (without the artificial insemination) for older infertile couples who need an heir. The Handmaid (called Offred, of Fred), through a series of flashbacks, recounts her life. At first, she lived in what we would recognize as the late 20th century and went to college; after some point, the government was taken over by a theocracy who determined that women would be much safer if all their rights were taken away. The novel explores the friction between the two halves of her life, and also between what she wants and what she actually does. (more…)