Friday, November 19, 2004

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another audiobook from the library. I’d heard of it vaguely before but knew nothing about it before listening to it. I like doing that. It’s nice having no pre-conceived ideas and letting the story tell itself. This was a good story but a totally ridiculous premise. You’re not supposed to rip the premise of these kind of novels, so says a literary website I looked up after finishing it. I like doing that, too. Listening to the story and then do some small amount of online research to learn more about the context.

This is a “dystopia” novel, like Brave New World and 1984, in which one utopian vision of the future has gone terribly wrong and is squashing the natural human spirit. You’re not supposed to judge the premise of such books, because the premise is not the point. The point is the ultra-orthodox views that are allowed to run wild in a way they never could in the real world and how horrible they are. I can respect that, and I don’t really have a quibble about how unrealistic the premise is. I shouldn’t complain if the premise is far-fetched, the premise is supposed to be far-fetched. But the world in which the characters live is unrealistic, and that is something I should quibble with.

Gilead is supposed to be America after the Christian Right takes over completely, but the characters talk and act as if they are British. That’s a fairly minor fault, but it really got in the way of me enjoying the story. The writing is good, and the characters are engaging, but the knowledge that Atwood wrote the book in reaction to Reagan being elected president (something I learned from a website) has really tarnished my memory of the experience. I’m sure the book was cheered in our institutions of higher learning, but I’m sorry, to think that the forces that brought about Reagan’s presidency could have made something like Gilead possible, no matter how dystopic the premise, is a fantasy based on irrational fear more than logic. Twenty years of hindsight sure goes a long way when it comes to judging the effects of social reform in our society.

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