"Dear Our Shared Shelf,
Our next book – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – is a gripping read, but it won’t make you feel comfortable. It is set in a dystopian future where a society (which was once clearly the USA) is ruled by a fundamentalist religion that controls women’s bodies. Because fertility rates are low, certain women – who have proved they are fertile – are given to the Commanders of the ‘Republic of Gilead’ as ‘handmaids’ in order to bear children for them when their wives cannot. The novel purports to be the first-person account of a handmaid, Ofred, who describes her life under this totalitarian regime. Flashbacks to her past, when she took it for completely for granted that she could be a working mother and have an equal relationship with her husband, show how easy it was for women’s rights to be revoked once a period of social chaos arose. As tension builds, the reader desperately hopes that the underground resistance will come to Ofred’s aid and rescue her.
Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale over thirty years ago now, but it is a book that has never stopped fascinating readers because it articulates so vividly what it feels like for a woman to lose power over her own body. Like George Orwell's 1984 (a novel that Atwood was inspired by) its title alone summons up a whole set of ideas, even for those who haven't read it. As Atwood has said in an interview: 'It has become a sort of tag for those writing about shifts towards policies aimed at controlling women, and especially women's bodies and reproductive functions: "Like something out of The Handmaid's Tale".'
Well, here's our chance to read beyond the ‘tag’, and share our thoughts about how we think its dystopian vision relates to the world of 2017. Atwood has called it ‘speculative fiction’, but also says that all the practises described in the novel are ‘drawn from the historical record’ – i.e. are things that have actually taken place in the past. Could any of Atwood’s speculations take place again, or are some of them taking place already? Are the women in the book powerless in their oppression or could they be doing more to fight it? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.
Now waiting for her selfie.