Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….
I guess you could say that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has two endings rather than one, the ending of Offred’s tale and then the speculative section at the back. I use the term speculative because it is an epilogue in a way, an aftermath of events, but it’s very distant to Offred and her tale. It is related, but remote, and yet if it wasn’t for that section I doubt I would have appreciated Offred’s story as much as I do.
If The Handmaid’s Tale only ended with Offred’s tale it would have annoyed me because even though I can appreciate an unorthodox ending (unorthodox as in not all loose ends tied up or a an ending that leaves the reader guessing while hinting at several options), I find that the more I read the more I can’t stand loose ends. They feel to me as if the story is cut off, even if there is some sort of intellectual reasoning behind it, I do not like to be left hanging.
The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t leave you hanging for the most part, but there’s something there that’s left to be desired. And I realise this is what, the second review this year I’ve began by going on about the ending? I must sound like I have a new found obsession with them, but I don’t. Sometimes it’s the ending that affects you more than the overall story, sometimes it’s what makes the ultimate difference in how you perceive the story or experience, in how you enjoy it or don’t enjoy it. That happens more so with me and Classic certain types of Modern Lit (like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or 1984 by George Orwell) and it’s hard for me to comment on the story as a whole without the ending coming in to it.
I also find it hard to divorce the second ending from the first, when a huge chunk of my feelings about The Handmaid’s Tale changed abruptly with it. To me, if you read Offred’s tale and leave the rest, they are completely different stories. If it was Offred’s tale alone I can say with utter certainty that I wish I would have spent that time reading another book (not because it was that horrible, I am glad I got to read it and it’s one of those stories that takes time to digest, but maybe more because I’m not in the mood for an intellectual read that didn’t enthrall me). It’s not that the story isn’t interesting and there are not a lot of things in there that makes me think, in fact it is the opposite. There’s so much I could say about it, but I won’t now, I’ll save it for book club so I don’t go on and on and on and on… Besides that type of food for thought for me isn’t something I find easy to speak about straight away, it’s an internal process, rather than an outward sharing one.
What I can say that The Handmaid’s Tale is an interesting read, Margaret Atwood is quite descriptive, but in a sense that the sentences and words she uses are florid and descriptive is what is around the character. The character does not see much around her, but see so much at the same time, and at first this is fine because the descriptions are quite interesting. I do find the use of words, language almost poetic in a sense, but after awhile it bores me or becomes too long. Yet on the other hand there was something about the narrative to help pull me along just enough to keep me slightly engrossed. Maybe not even slightly, more right on the edge of being engrossed in it.
I think I’m only going to ever recommend this as a must read for Dystopian lovers and as a novel to read for the sake of reading, so you know what others are on about. Sometimes books are like that.