Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A chilling tale

I've been doing a bit of reading lately - shock, horror, I know!  Over the last few months I seem to have been attached at the fingers to my PC, and consequently have done very little reading of actual paper books.  But a long weekend away, coupled with no internet access (I was actually quite concerned that I would go into withdrawal mode) gave me the kickstart I needed to start whittling down the tower of books I have on my bedside table.

First up was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale.  

Atwood creates a terrifying and yet totally believable dystopian world – where the population growth rate has fallen well into the negatives and the ability to conceive and deliver a healthy child has become a rare commodity.  Women have become objects, and have been divided into various classes: wives; handmaids; marthas; econowives; and unwomen.  The handmaids are proven fertile women and, during their reproductive years, they are valued commodities.

The book takes the form of a retrospective journal, as Offred, a handmaid, looks back on the events of her life and reminisces about her life ‘before’.  I am ashamed to admit that it took me a good two thirds of the book to realise that each handmaid’s assigned name actually stems from the household they have been placed with – so the narrator Offred, is of Fred’s household.

The situations that Offred and other women in this society find themselves in are truly terrifying.  But it is the notes that form the final chapter that are the most chilling.  Without giving too much away, Offred’s journal is discovered, and forms the basis of a series of lectures by experts on the now/then defunct society.  As I read these ‘lectures’ – I was reminded of how much we need to be aware of humanity’s past  – and how important it is for us to learn from our mistakes.

This is an important, thought provoking book - read it.

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